Palgrave solar farm protest leader vows to never campaign again as plans approved
A villager, who lead opposition to a large-scale solar farm in Palgrave, has pledged to never campaign against anything again in the wake of an application process which she described as a farce.
Plans for the development at Grange Farm, which will span more than 200 acres, were formally approved by Mid Suffolk District Council on Friday.
Submitted by Pathfinder Clean Energy, the proposals are a crushing blow for villagers, who are also facing the prospect of a second solar farm being created in Marsh Lane, which adjoins the Grange Farm site.
If approved, the two sites, when combined, would become one of the largest solar farms in the country.
Anne Moynihan, who headed a group campaigning against the Grange Farm site, spoke of her dismay this week at what appeared to be a foregone conclusion, with very few adjustments made to the scheme despite an outpouring of objections from villagers concerned at the loss of agricultural land.
“I’ll never campaign against anything ever again, because there is no point,” she told the Diss Express.
“This part of East Anglia is earmarked to become industrialised, and will no longer be countryside. They haven’t taken our concerns on board in any way, or at any point in the proceedings.
“Given everything I have seen or heard since the September planning meeting, it felt like this decision was a foregone conclusion.
“I also now fully understand how powerless we are to protect what we have in the face of an ideology that is being promoted by officers and councillors.
“At the meeting, councillor Warboys was talking about the plans powering 16,000 homes, but it’s actually more like 10,000 to 11,000, but nobody even corrected him.
“They were also able to ignore the new Diss and District Neighbourhood Plan and issues around the sub-station because we already have one pylon there.”
She added: “The majority of councillors thought the increased bio-diversity and a permissive footpath and hedgerow planting would sufficiently compensate us.
“It was stated that the energy created by the solar farm would supply far more households than are in Palgrave and Diss. Therefore, this outweighed any detriment to us.”
Despite the criticism levelled against it, the district council has said it wants to see more weight given to the concerns of communities when it comes to similar schemes being submitted.
The authority has urged developers to listen to what communities are telling them as is seeks a roof-before-rural approach to solar farms.
Council leader Andy Mellen said: “The National Policy Planning Framework guides our planning decisions, but currently does not adequately protect the best and most versatile farmland.
“Nor does it allow us to compel developers to put solar panels on the roofs of new homes.
“Energy production is a national priority, but so is food production. We want to make the right choices for the planet and for our people, but we need the national policy framework in which to make them. Roof before rural is our strong preference.
“In the meantime, we strongly encourage developers to consider agriculture, the landscape and our communities when they submit their applications and to listen and respond to local concerns.
“As a Green council, we do want to see local renewable energy production – it will be impossible for the country to meet its climate objectives without it – but are very aware of the challenges that come along with that.
“When these applications come in, our communities regularly express their concerns, and we want to make sure that residents’ voices are heard and that the district retains its beautiful and productive agricultural landscape.”
With each planning application, the council expects consideration to be given to the loss of agricultural land, the potential harm to the diverse character of the landscape, and the concerns and fears expressed by communities.
When developers are engaging on matters of concern with local communities, they are strongly encouraged to set out how the development could provide benefits for local communities, as well as the steps needed to address any concerns.
The statement acknowledged the valuable contribution that renewable and low-carbon energy sources make to national energy security and stated that Mid Suffolk District Council will reflect on any ministerial statements or national policy guidance issued on such developments as and when released.