We have published a map showing all the solar farm applications for greenfield land in Oxfordshire over the last two years. If all the sites were approved, the farms would occupy an area of greenfield land equivalent to approximately 1,400 football pitches – or the same as every park, allotment, cemetery and other green space managed by Oxford City Council.
A number of solar farms already exist within the county, including those at Watchfield and Steventon. However, with many more now in the pipeline, we are concerned that neither the public or District Councils realise the potential future impact of all the proposed developments.
Helen Marshall, Branch Director, said: "CPRE Oxfordshire believes renewable energy is a good thing, but not at an unacceptable cost to the countryside. There are thousands of roofs and industrial buildings that can be used for solar panels before we need to start building all over our valuable agricultural land.
"Often the public aren't aware of what has been approved until the building work starts, so we want people to realise the number and scale of applications that are coming through. It's really important that local communities have their say."
There are eight solar farms in the county that are up and running or have permission to go ahead. However, there are a further 27 that have come forward over the last 12 months and are at some point in the planning process.
Helen Marshall added: "The consequences have yet to be seen, but the pipeline is clearly building."
Government Solar PV Road Map
The Government recently published its Road Map for the future of the solar PV industry. This sets out the guiding principles for deployment of solar in the UK, ahead of the full strategy to be published in Spring 2014.
It includes the principle that proposals should be 'appropriately sited, give proper weight to environmental considerations such as landscape and visual impact, heritage and local amenity, and provide opportunities for local communities to influence decisions that affect them.'
CPRE Oxfordshire welcomes this statement, but is concerned that the current protections in place will not be adequate to defend our countryside and that landowners will still be tempted by the potential financial benefits to put forward applications in inappropriate locations such as Besselsleigh (see below).
Case study: Besselsleigh
Earlier this year, Hive Energy sought a screening opinion for a proposed 49-hectare solar farm at Besselsleigh. The Vale of White Horse District Council decided that an Environmental Impact Assessment would not be required and local residents are now concerned that a full planning application will follow. The site is in the Oxford Green Belt and would occupy the whole of an area between the village and Besselsleigh Wood, a local beauty spot part, as well as cutting across a footpath. The site is good agricultural land, lies within the Oxford Heights West Conservation Target Area and forms part of the North Corallian Ridge.
CPRE Countryside Charter
CPRE has launched a national Countryside Charter demanding better protection for our open spaces. It says priority should be given to the re-use of previously developed brownfield sites and calls for local people to get a stronger voice in the planning system. Speak out for the countryside, sign our charter now!