Well it’s exciting to see that having got its planning application approved, the solar array at Berriewood Farm (an old WWII airfield site that’s now a riding school and livery yard where my horse is stabled) is now under construction. I’ve seen the process happening from initial option, through the planning process and now onto the build. The farm area has lots of space where the cross country course runs in the summer but where only sheep graze for the majority of the year. Putting in a solar array will still enable the sheep to graze so no land is lost and the cross country course is being moved so situation normal – all with the advantage of 13MW of electricity being generated in the process.
The whole development ticks a lot of boxes for me – 1) we’re talking renewable energy which is good news as a far as I’m concerned. 2) there was the whole planning application process, which is what I do at work most days; and 3) it’s where I keep my horse, so where I spend quite a few hours every day.
From the purely self-interest perspective once I knew that having the array would actually increase the security of the airfield (it’s already locked at night but this would secure the airfield further) and no facilities would be lost to riders at the centre, then the NIMBY factor was gone for me.
Being a ground mounted array the development needed planning permission. Even before the application was submitted there was public consultation with the neighbours to get views on potential concerns that could be addressed and answered; with the result that the transport route used for getting the plant to the site was altered. The whole issue of visual impact was something to be addressed too. The airfield is pretty high but there are higher points around – the wonderful Lawley Hill for one – where it may have been possible to see the array so thinking about this was one of the areas addressed.
The application was submitted with an ecology survey, visual impact survey and transport assessment – all to ensure that the development is not going to have a negative environmental impact. While the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) makes a presumption in favour of sustainable development it’s still really important to be able to show that any environmental impact has been considered and can be mitigated. For the Berriewood development for example there’s a planning condition that requires they plant a hedge line to act as a bat corridor.
It was interesting to be watching the application from the other side, ie. as a supportive member of the public rather than the agent because I found myself regularly looking at the Council website to see if a decision had been made. Also a useful reminder for work, was the power of getting the applicant to garner the supporters to write and make comments on the plans. That folk could really write to put their comments of support for the application to the council as well as objectors. It’s often only the objectors who feel motivated to write about planning concerns but getting the supporters to make comments enables the planning authority to see the full and rounded local public opinion.
The planning approval was granted under delegated authority after all the environmental assessments were reviewed, mitigation options discussed and agreed and with 12 letters of local support and 1 objection. The site is due to be operational in the Spring and the pictures show the work started so far.
Another good news story from a sunny Shropshire.
Blog post by Deb Cairns