Council refuse three solar farm plans in Horsham and South Downs

Steyning solar farm proposal mock up - provided by Inazin SUS-140804-171155001
Steyning solar farm proposal mock up - provided by Inazin SUS-140804-171155001

A pro-green resident has labelled the district council as ‘backward looking’ after the planning committee refused three separate solar farm applications this week.

The majority of Horsham district councillors opposed the development of solar farms proposed for Steyning, Ashurst and Partridge Green by three separate applicants at the Development Control Committee meeting on Tuesday April 15.

Although the three applications had to be considered separately and based on their own merits, councillors and residents claimed that the solar energy generators, as a whole, would impact on the rural landscape and set a precedent for future applications if approved, despite all having no objections from the South Downs National Park Authority.

Philip Circus (Con, Chanctonbury) said that the council spend much of its time discussing the aesthetic impact developments have on the South Downs, but when it comes to renewable energy that debate seems to go ‘out of the window’.

“I think we’re spoiling the countryside for no good reason and we should not be swept up onto this bandwagon of renewable energy,” he said.

The plan to build on Priors Byne Farm, Bines Road, Partridge Green was described as a ‘beautiful pristine part of the countryside’ by Jonathan Chowen (Con, Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead). He said: “It will be completely terminated if we put this application in.”

Owner of the farm, John Ford, said that such a development would secure the future of the farm, which has struggled recently with the sale of produce. Also on the agenda was a plan to build photovoltaic solar arrays on Ford Farm off Honeybridge Lane in Ashurst by applicant Lumicity.

A local resident Robert Harari claimed the application was ‘hastily put together’ and was brought to the attention of villagers over the Christmas period in order to fall under the radar.

In support of the application, Geoff Barnard of Steyning 10:10, a climate action group, said the farm will only use 2.8 per cent of land in Ashurst in order to power 2,400 households.

“This is going to be grazed by sheep and be unploughed for 25 years,” said Mr Barnard.

Sue Rogers (Con, Steyning) said upon visiting the site she could see the land was ‘gently undulating’ and claimed it would cause a ‘significant impact’. “I think this will undermine the landscape,” she added.

However, due to the close proximity between the Partridge Green site and the Ashurst site, councillors expressed their concern of the overall impact it will have if both are granted approval, despite planning officers’ best efforts to ask the applications to be considered on their own merits.

Before the meeting, a resident of Honeybridge Lane, Vanessa Timms, said she is against both applications because they will direct HGVs through the narrow lanes where she lives.

Resident Mark Knight’s home is located 500 meters between the Partridge Green and Ashurst sites, which will amount to 120 acres of solar panels in total if both are granted. He said: “By anyone’s estimation this is an extreme case of industrial development of unspoilt Sussex farmland.”

The third application proposed for Huddlestone Farm in Steyning, by Inazin, which can be viewed from Steyning Walk, a popular tourist attraction, was the only plan to be recommended for refusal by the planning officer because ‘its sitting, extent and the character of the use would result in significant adverse visual amenity impacts’, as stated in the agenda.

The applicant, however, has pledged to donate £10,000 a year to a worthy local cause over the 25 year period the farm will be in place and offered the opportunity for residents to take out shares in the scheme.

David Blake of Ashurst Place Farm, which overlooks the site, said the farm will ruin the walk for people passing through.

An agent for the applicant, James Hartley, said that the argument of using brown field sites as an alternative to green field locations is difficult because Horsham district has ‘very little’ available.

Roger Arthur (UKIP, Chanctonbury) said that despite what the government supports, the council should not be ‘intimidated by government diktat.”

Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham) said: “I don’t believe this is a way forward at the moment until the technology can take a quantum leap ahead.”

All three applications were refused by the committee under the same reasons, including the scale of each development, the impact on the landscape, and the issues outweighing the benefits.

After the committee meeting Mr Barnard said he was ‘massively disappointed’ by the ‘backward looking stance of the council’.

“It was breathtaking how nearly unanimous the position was to solar power.

“To refuse all three is a sign that Horsham wants to close its mind to the potential of renewable sources.”