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Parish Council Bluefield General Comment 17th January

South Leigh Parish Council (SLPC) Submission re 21/03711/FUL – Land at Tar Farm, Tar Road, Stanton Harcourt – Installation of a renewable energy scheme

 The SLPC had to consider whether there were “planning reasons” to justify total opposition and with a heavy heart considered there were not; South Leigh Neighbourhood Plan did not deal with solar farms specifically and so neither permitted or opposed them but gave generalised criteria (eg SLE2) which would have to be subjectively considered by WODC.

Further, SLPC had to consider whether in the light of the solar farm at 12 Acre farm – a smaller development but in a more prominent position – WODC would turn this development down in its entirety and again the conclusion was that it would not.

Finally, the SLPC considered WODC’s own plan (8.38) which referred to a study that concluded that the area of West Oxfordshire “has the capacity to deploy further renewable generation facilities”.

However the Neighbourhood Plan, WODC’s consideration of the 12-acre site and WODC’s plan also all looked at the need to avoid significant adverse impact upon the intrinsic character of the landscape, the need to maintain an attractive and biodiversity-rich environment and to protect the distinctive qualities of the District’s town and villages – but also in the words set out in the Neighbourhood Plan, not only did the Community express its commitment to landscape, nature conservation and protection of its local green open spaces, it also committed to “combating climate change” and a “low carbon future.”

 

SLPC recognise that there have been a large number of objections raised by parishioners, many of which focused on the views, footpaths, proximity to the village, and the sheer scale of the solar farm. Many parishioners also made it clear they support renewable energy but felt the size prevented them from supporting the application.

 

So rather than SLPC adopt a root and branch opposition which would fail, there has been dynamic negotiation between the Applicant and SLPC over a number of months in face-to-face meetings, exchanges of emails, telephone calls and Zoom discussions (sometimes at inconvenient times for all) with the Applicants listening, adapting and reducing the scale in the light of the comments made and objections lodged in attempts to improve the application and engage with visual sensitivities.

In summary, there have been several phases of alteration by the applicants in the light of SLPC’s views and SLPC are happy to acknowledge the final series of concessions are

(1) All footpaths throughout the whole site have now been redesigned and there is now a minimum buffer of 10m along the footpath corridors. There is now a significant widening of the footpath in the northeast part of the scheme.  It now has a minimum width of 13.5 metres, broadening out to 29.5 metres as the view opens out towards the village.  The applicants have also incorporated a zig-zag fence line on the west side of this footpath with an expanded area of planting following previous suggestions by SLPC.  For context, this is said to be by far the widest footpath that the applicants have ever incorporated into one of their schemes.

(2) Two northeastern parcels of rising ground near the village have been removed from the site (if there had been solar panels the views would have been disproportionately affected and a footpath made less attractive) and as a result of (2)

(3) An additional 13 acres of Biodiversity Enhancement Area has resulted

(4) Significant planting along the south side of the disused railway line

(5) Woodland planting to the south.

(6) Further tree and hedgerow planting throughout site.

(7) A generous community fund will be established.

 

In the light of the phases of concessions negotiated by SLPC including 1-7 above the SLPC will not oppose the application.

 

There remain reports and investigations that still need to be completed and various conditions attached to the grant of any application.

 

(1) A final detailed “Construction Traffic Management Plan” needs to be filed prior to commencement of the work with the 16 points referred to in the OCC objection dealt with and a condition attached to the grant of permission that ensures it is complied with. Further the current suggested vehicle access is on a current right of way. We would like to see a protected footpath area established.

 

(2) A further ecological report should be commissioned forthwith for the late winter, spring and autumn periods to address the accepted limitations in the biodiversity information currently in planning report SHF.3019.002.EC.R.001-ECIA+(2) ie to provide a full and complete report over a full 12-month period as a biodiversity baseline. The filed report was drawn from evidence gained from a 2 month period (June and July) and we fear underestimates a) the number of bird species that could be breeding in the area over a 12 month period and b) does not fully evaluate the complete biodiversity overall local flora and fauna species including those known to be threatened by human activity. Local knowledge tells us that all the following birds use the site for hunting, roosting and/or breeding.  Some of these species are on the red/orange protected list and of particular significance are Cuckoo, Yellowhammer, Willow Warbler, Skylark, 5 separate species of Owls and breeding Lapwings.  Because of the timing of the report, it misses the winter migrant birds that include flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares as well as Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Yellow Hammer, Reed Buntings, Linnets and Starlings and the early breeder birds such as, such as Skylarks and Mistle Thrushes. The Applicants acknowledge that their site is likely to take at least 9 months to complete, therefore whatever season they start, these birds will be affected. We, therefore, ask that a condition is placed on permission for a full year and a) protected bird survey to be undertaken, and b) extended species survey with results published and mitigation arranged with those points of mitigation included in an amended management plan (see below). Further, as a further condition as the Applicants mention that should the development cross over with the breeding times for birds that the site manager will be responsible for their wellbeing – we would like a condition to planning that this is observed by a suitably qualified person.

 

 

(3) We ask that in relation to trees which the Applicants will plant a condition to the application be that these trees are at least 4 years old and of native species and that any that dieback is replaced at the Applicants’ cost.  We would like it to specify exactly where and how many trees will be planted and exactly which hedges will be bulked up.

 

(4) The ecological impact it is said will be monitored and we require that to be done by an outside expert with the results disclosed.

 

(5) In early discussions with the Applicants it was agreed that the field(s) closest to the village (abutting South Leigh Station House) should be treated as a separate zone with conditions applied that it should not be worked on Saturdays and when the piles were driven it should be done as quickly as possible and separate to the rest of the site – to endeavour to get that acknowledged noisy part of the installation done with as little disruption to the neighbours as possible.

 

(6) Archaeology – further archaeological investigation to be completed which we understand are underway and the investigation being made part of the condition.

 

(7) Clear and detailed management and maintenance plans and plans for monitoring biodiversity and planting with the planting managed to prevent a green tunnel effect. We want to ensure that amelioration and maintenance are ensured over the totality of the time frame of the scheme together with bonds or other financial guarantees that money will be available to fund what is required. Such to be attached as conditions to the grant of the application.

 

(8) The 40 years longevity of this project, the use of 200 acres of original farmland and the paucity of research internationally of the long-term natural world impacts of large solar farms, lends the Applicants’ project the advantage of being pioneers in contributing positively to world knowledge on biodiversity and the natural world in relation to solar farm construction and operation from the outset. We request that the Applicants consider initiating a research project from the outset of the solar farm’s construction for the duration of the life of the solar farm, into the impact of all aspects of this large solar farm on the local natural world. If the Applicants decide that this is not something they themselves could undertake, we request that they grant permission for South Leigh Parish Council to appoint a professional team to undertake this research, with the Applicants providing guaranteed funding for the said research over 40 years as a separate contribution aside from the agreed Community Fund being paid to the Parish Council. We also request that the Applicants grant the appointed research team unlimited access to the site to carry out the research and that all research undertaken, either by the Applicants or by an independent team, is fully documented and publicly available for the duration of the life of the solar farm.

 

 

Finally, we would hope that in the event that the generation of electricity by the installed solar panels becomes inefficient before the end of the term they are removed at that stage and the site restored to its current use.

 

South Leigh Parish Council

 

 

 

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