Farmland concern over Chelmsford solar plans

Plans for a solar energy farm big enough to supply electricity to 67,000 homes could see the loss of “valuable farmland,” a professor has warned.

The 459 hectare site on land west of Terling would be able to generate around 350MW of electricity. A total of 432 hectare is set to be used for the solar farm site. The Solar Photovoltaic (PV) array works area would span 292 hectares.

EDF Renewables and Padero Solar say they are currently at an early stage in developing their proposals which will include measures like landscaping and biodiversity improvements of the occupied farmland.

The energy developers say that since the non-statutory consultation, proposals have been refined in order to reduce the use of best and most versatile agricultural land by up to 60 per cent.

As a statutory consultation on the plans begins, Professor Mike Alder – a fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society – fears that a large part of British farmland could be lost and at a rate where more food would need to be imported.

He expressed particular concern about the environmental damage the scheme could cause and described it as “sad” that residents of the planned Chelmsford Garden Village would lose views of open fields.

Professor Alder said: “Solar farms use valuable farmland and at the current rate of loss of such land we will soon be importing half our food.

“It seems our politicians do not take food security seriously.

“The Government has targeted 2030 as a date when all the electricity to fuel our homes will come from wind power. Solar can play its part but not on good land. In Essex alone there is over 70,000 acres of poor quality land available.

“All environmentalists are concerned about ecology and biodiversity. There is little evidence available on the effects of solar farms on biodiversity.

“What evidence there is suggests that the effect of solar panels has a negative impact. Can we let these farms proliferate when we don’t know the environmental damage they might cause?”

In a statement – as part of its consultation – EDF Renewables and Padero Solar, said the scheme “will make a major contribution to the UK’s need for renewable energy”.

It continued: “We also want it to have a positive impact on the local community and the environment.

“Energy generation currently makes up a significant amount of the UK’s carbon emissions. The Government is committed to reducing this through a variety of measures including the introduction of new, cleaner methods of electricity generation – including solar power.

“This will happen at the same time as older, carbon-intensive methods of energy generation are being phased out.”

The partners added that the ways in which people use electricity are changing.

“As we increasingly use electricity to power new modes of transport and industrial activity,” the statement continued. “It is anticipated that demand for electricity is likely to increase.

“Delivering solar energy generation at scale has real benefits for the UK. We
believe that Longfield Solar Farm can and should help achieve these national goals whilst delivering real advantages for the local community.

“We will therefore carefully consider the local community and environment through our master planning process for this project and are committing significant resources over the long term to bring this vision to reality.

“As part of this, we believe that Longfield Solar Farm can deliver environmental improvements to the local area in terms of both biodiversity and increases to the populations of key local wildlife.

“This will be as a result of careful planning based on scientific assessment, the long-term involvement of the local community and the managing of the land in a way that benefits the environment.

“We will also create new paths for walking and cycling in the local area, as well as making a direct contribution locally through a community fund.

“We have already responded to early public engagement by making changes to the design and layout of the scheme before this consultation.

“We will continue to have regard to comments from the local community received during this consultation as we prepare our development consent order application.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter