January - Solar Farms – coming soon to a field near you

January - Solar Farms – coming soon to a field near you

Bar a pandemic, the major issue for our generation must be climate change, and with many new local politicians, blue has turned to green, and they are intent on action.

We welcome their commitment to reducing car usage and turning to electric vehicles, though we remain confused at the continuing road and bridge building programmes across the county, which should surely be one of the first things to cancel if we are to all be encouraged to get out of our cars.  With the very extensive housebuilding programmes planned, our area’s green energy is being promoted.  We support this, but regret that the infrastructure needed to facilitate these new places has not been planned and comes as an afterthought.

There is no overarching strategy for what is needed or where it should go, so that as solar farm applications come forward, which on the face of it is to be welcomed, the Councils’ are being caught off guard.  Such are the monetary returns being offered to landowners that many applications are coming forward one after the other, and where good planning deserves a joined-up approach across the various council districts and their officers, they are having to react to whatever is proposed and promoted.  Each application is assessed individually, with no common set of criteria against which to judge, no way of influencing preferred sites, no way of comparing one site against another, and no consideration given to the cumulative effect of all the various sites one on top of another. 

When we first heard about an application on the upper southern slopes of the hills of Oxford at Nuneham, we could scarcely believe it, nor that it would gain the Council’s support.  We did our best to work with the officers and the applicants but in the end we have been defeated and permission has been granted.  The officers, councillors and the applicant all accept that it is a sensitive site, and that it is not an efficient one, however, such is the strength of feeling about the climate emergency that any opposition on environmental or planning grounds, was overcome on the casting vote of the Chairman.  This site extends across many many fields tantamount to a whole farm, at 300 acres.  Its contours and its sheer size mean it cannot be screened and will be very visible as it stretches out across the slopes.  As it sits right up against Grenoble Road, a site of another nearly 300 acres which was recently removed from the Green Belt to provide 3,500 houses, it will have a further damning effect for the people who come to live close by.

Oxford’s open spaces are crucial to the City, as its green lungs.  A hundred years ago people lived in poor conditions with no access to nature, today we may be more sophisticated and richer as a place but the role that green spaces play in our health and wellbeing are perhaps recognised even more, particularly over the past two years.  When the families and children who move hopefully into their new homes at Grenoble Road alongside their neighbours at Blackbird Leys, and Greater Leys, creating a giant suburb of the city, they should expect and deserve access to open countryside.  Sadly this is not to be, for soon acres of infrastructure will appear and take over their green fields.

OPT recognises the importance of acting against climate change.  On our own land we are acting to improve our carbon capture, protect and improve our ancient water meadows, plant trees, and understand opportunities for biodiversity net gain in any new development.  At Sandford we have worked with the local community to build the Sandford Hydro which is now producing electricity.  Whatever we do we try to balance heritage, landscape and views, the environment, and the health and wellbeing of residents.  As more solar farm sites come forward, is it too much to hope that our County and the District Councils can come together and produce a strategy so that we get the green energy that we need but in a way that can keep Oxfordshire’s countryside special for us all.   

 

Photo Credit: Thom Airs