A controversial proposal for an expansive solar farm which could power a third of Ryedale’s homes across an area of mostly top quality farmland should be approved as its “significant public benefits” would outweigh the harm it would cause, planning officers have claimed.
North York Council’s strategic planning committee will on Tuesday (October 10) hear if it approves Harmony Energy’s scheme on land off Great Sike Road, Old Malton, it is expected to be capable of providing the average annual electricity needs of 8,660 homes.
At the meeting councillors will be tasked with considering whether the benefits of the proposed renewable energy project, across an area equivalent to about 130 football pitches beside Eden Camp Museum and the A64 bypass, are more important than its impacts on the landscape and local heritage.
However, since plans for a solar farm on the site emerged several years ago much of the controversy has focused on the loss of farmland for 40 years, some 60 per cent of which has been graded the best and most versatile.
Minister for business, Kevin Hollinrake, whose Thirsk and Malton constituency is heavily dependent on agriculture, has described plans to site solar farms on good quality farmland as “bonkers”.
He said while councils were justifying the installation of huge photo-voltaic arrays on greenfield sites on climate change grounds, there remained a range of alternative solutions to increase the supply of renewable energy.
Among hundreds of objections lodged with the council, one resident condemned the proposed solar farm as “a highly visible blot on the Ryedale landscape”.
He stated: “It will ruin the natural beauty of the area and discourage visitors and the travel and tourism industry of the entire area.
“If approved this will set a dangerous precedence that will actively encourage other such applications that could turn the vale of Pickering into one huge mirror and wreck an area of outstanding national beauty.
“This application will result in the loss of 130 acres of prime farmland at a time when the need for self security of grain supply has never been better demonstrated by the current war in Europe.”
Nevertheless, in its planning application, Harmony Energy said although the UK has ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and moving towards a low carbon society, the only way these aims can be achieved is if a huge amount of renewable energy is deployed.
It states: “At present, the UK is falling behind on its obligations in this respect,
which makes the need for new renewable energy to be deployed all the more urgent.
“The proposed development would result in carbon savings of just over 12,500 tonnes per year.”
The firm has also underlined the site is not subject to any local or national designations with regards to landscape, heritage or ecology and that it has provided details which demonstrate it is the only viable location for the development.
It has pledged to return the site to agriculture at the end of the 40-year lifetime of the solar farm, adding that the loss of land would not be permanent and the soil quality would improve over those decades.
However, in a report to councillors planning officers state the firm has provided “inconclusive evidence that there are no reasonably available sites appropriate for the proposed development” in other areas at a lower risk of flooding or on lower grade agricultural land.
They added, in recommending the proposal be approved, they were attaching weight to Harmony Energy having already secured a connection to the National Grid and the scheme being capable of being completed relatively quickly.