Solar farm proposals ‘would set precedent’

A solar farm similar to the ones proposed in Steyning, Ashurst and Partridge Green
A solar farm similar to the ones proposed in Steyning, Ashurst and Partridge Green

A PRO-GREEN resident has labelled Horsham District Council as ‘backward looking’ after the planning committee refused three separate solar farm applications on Tuesday, April 15.

The majority of councillors on the development control committee opposed the solar farms proposed for Steyning, Ashurst and Partridge Green by three separate applicants.

Although the three applications had to be considered separately and based on their own merits, councillors and residents claimed the solar energy generators, as a whole, would impact on the rural landscape and set a precedent for future applications if approved.

Cllr Philip Circus said the council spent much of its time discussing the aesthetic impact developments had on the South Downs, but when it came to renewable energy, debate seemed to go ‘out of the window’.

“I think we’re spoiling the countryside for no good reason and we should not be swept up onto this bandwagon of renewable energy,” he said.

On the agenda was a plan to build photovoltaic solar arrays on Ford Farm, off Honeybridge Lane, in Ashurst, by applicant Lumicity.

Resident Robert Harari claimed the application was ‘hastily put together’ and was brought to the attention of villagers over the Christmas period in order to fall under the radar.

In support of the application, Geoff Barnard of Steyning 10:10, a climate action group, said the farm would use only 2.8 per cent of land in Ashurst in order to power 2,400 households.

“This is going to be grazed by sheep and be unploughed for 25 years,” said Mr Barnard.

Cllr Sue Rogers said upon visiting the site, she could see the land was ‘gently undulating’ and claimed it would cause a ‘significant impact’.

“I think this will undermine the landscape,” she added.

However, due to the close proximity between the Partridge Green and Ashurst sites, councillors expressed concern over the overall impact if both were granted approval, despite planning officers’ best efforts to ask for the applications to be considered on their own merits.

Resident Mark Knight’s home is between the two sites, which would have amounted to 120 acres of solar panels in total, if both were granted.

He said: “By anyone’s estimation this is an extreme case of industrial development of unspoilt Sussex farmland.”

The third application, at Huddlestone Farm in Steyning, which can be viewed from Steyning Walk, a popular tourist attraction, was the only plan to be recommended for refusal. The planning officer stated ‘its siting, extent and the character of the use would result in significant adverse visual amenity impacts’ on the agenda.

David Blake, of Ashurst Place Farm, which overlooks the site, said it would ruin the walk for people passing through.

An agent for applicant Huddlestone Farm Solar Park Ltd, James Hartley, said the argument of using brownfield sites as an alternative to greenfield locations was difficult because the district had ‘very little’ available.

Cllr Roger Arthur said despite what the Government supported, the council should not be ‘intimidated by Government tit-tat’.

Cllr Brian Donnelly said: “I don’t believe this is a way forward at the moment until the technology can take a quantum leap ahead.”

All three applications were refused for the same reasons, including the scale of each development, the impact on the landscape and the issues outweighing the benefits.

After the committee meeting, Mr Barnard said he was ‘massively disappointed’ by the ‘backward looking stance of the council’.

“It was breathtaking how nearly unanimous the position was to solar power. To refuse all three is a sign that Horsham wants to close its mind to the potential of renewable sources.