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NH&S GP statement on PACE Tophams Solar Planning Application for land off Ashwell Road, North of Bygrave, 22/00741/FP

The North Herts and Stevenage Green Party supports this proposal in principle but believes the application requires 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 in our approach to decarbonising our energy provision is called for to avoid a catastrophe for our future generations.

Whilst we campaign and wait for national policy to change and make it more feasible for rooftop solar panels to be installed on as many roofs as possible, 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 local demand as we abandon fossil fuels.

One element which is missing from the proposal is any tangible benefit to the community to offset the concerns raised both during the consultation and now noted in the objections. There is no benefit in terms of cheaper electricity, nor has any consideration been given to other ways of letting those living close to the development benefit from measures such as offering shares in the company or rewarding the local community by future-proofing the least energy inefficient homes by retro-fitting super insulation.

As for our recommended conditions these are primarily centred on screening and biodiversity net gain. With respect to screening 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 already proposed by the developers. It is our view that the screening scheme currently proposed by the developers is inadequate especially since many of the objections raised relate to disruption of views of the undulating landscape.

The developers claim the change from arable land to a solar farm will produce habitats that increase biodiversity.  This can only be achieved over a significant time scale once trees have grown and grasslands and hedgerows have become established.  For this to be successful, careful and long-term management of the site is essential including initial irrigation of new plantings and should be undertaken without the use of pesticides or herbicides.  As others have noted, a long-term management plan for site is a required component of the application. The proposed regulations for Biodiversity Net Gain require a management plan to extend for a minimum of 30 years and include monitoring, reporting and enforcement.

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 is still available for agricultural use. For this to be ensured there should be an extremely robust condition securing complete reinstatement of the site. This should include the removal of all components of the project both if the site is upgraded with more efficient solar panels at some time in the future and when the site is decommissioned. Given the anticipated 40-year Iifetime of the project, changes of ownership and in commercial viability may affect the ability of the parties to execute proper rehabilitation and removal of waste from the site. It is therefore recommended that developers/landowners are required to put up security against the costs of default on this obligation. In the event of changes of ownership this liability should move with title.