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North Herts Green Party comments on Solar Farm Proposal

North Herts and Stevenage Green Party comments on the Planning Application 21/03380/FP for a solar farm on land to north and east of Great Wymondley.

The North Herts and Stevenage Green Party supports this proposal in principle but believes it needs both significant revision and the application of binding conditions if the application is to be approved.

We support this proposal as one of the measures needed to combat the climate emergency and the UK’s aim to reach net zero by 2050.  Without such developments this legal target will not be met and it is clear that the government is already falling behind the necessary trajectory to reach that target.  Many more such developments are urgently needed and a rapid step change to our approach to decarbonising our energy provision is called for.  Any step change to the socio-economic system is by its very nature disruptive and uncomfortable but to avoid a catastrophe for our future generations, a certain amount of discomfort must be endured now.  While rooftop Photovoltaic (PV) arrays may seem attractive and may be feasible for many large new builds, the long periods required for return on investment and potential changes in ownership within that time scale means that commercial exploitation of such approaches may not be viable.  In addition, while rooftop systems may meet the electricity demands of individual buildings, the scale of electricity production required by the national grid for industry, heating of legacy housing stock and the increased use of electric vehicles means that large scale solar and wind farms are also essential to meet predicted demand as we abandon fossil fuels.

Solar farms provide electricity to the grid where there is spare capacity and this is directly linked to the demand from centres of population.  The site location has the benefit of proximity to the Great Wymondley substation to access the grid and minimise transmission losses.  Its siting adjacent to the A1(M) could also be advantageous for future technological developments.  Although not yet widely developed, technology exists to charge ‘on the go’ with cabling below the road surface which could be of particular value as heavy goods vehicles go electric.

As for our recommended conditions these are primarily centred on environmental net gain.  As proposed, we consider the development is far too dense to allow the necessary benefits to the environment and biodiversity to be achieved.  Plants under the arrays will not receive sufficient sunlight to flourish and so, to achieve the desired level of net gain, blocks of the solar arrays need to be broken by open passages to allow the establishment of a wild-flower meadowland to develop in between the arrays supporting natural flora and fauna.  Similarly, a wider buffer zone should be established around the site allowing low level scrub to develop with tree planting around the periphery to form more substantial areas of woodland.  This latter would go some way to add additional screening to that proposed by the developers.  It is our view that the scheme currently proposed by the developers is inadequate and should be significantly improved.

The developers claim the change from arable land to a solar farm will produce habitats that massively increase biodiversity; 203% net gain for the site and 90% for new hedgerows.  This can only be achieved over a significant time scale and not until the newly planted trees have grown and the proposed grasslands and hedgerows have become established.  For this to be successful, irrigation of new plantings (especially in drought periods) will be required initially and should be followed by careful and long-term management of the site, undertaken without the use of pesticides or herbicides. Details of the plant management plan for the site should be a required component of the application.

Existing public Rights of Way pass adjacent to the proposed site and it is noted that screening has been proposed to minimise visibility of the site from the Hertfordshire Way, a long distance footpath.  The cycle way from Letchworth to Graveley, part of NCN Route 12 (Route 12 - runs along the north-east perimeter of the site and is in a poor state of repair.  The developer should be asked to upgrade this cycle path to a reasonable standard.

In addition, we regard it essential that the status of the land as agricultural land should be retained through the lifetime of the project so that when the site is decommissioned, the land remains available for agricultural use.  For this to be ensured there should be an extremely robust condition securing complete reinstatement of the site, including the removal of all elements of the project when the site is decommissioned.  Given the anticipated 40 year lifetime of the project, changes of ownership and commercial viability may affect the ability of the parties to execute proper rehabilitation and removal of waste from the site.  In the event of changes of ownership this liability should move with title.   It is therefore recommended that developers/landowners are required to put up security against the costs of default on this obligation.

Overall, the North Herts & Stevenage Green Party welcomes projects like this into our community but insists they should be well designed for optimised local community benefits in all inter-related aspects.