6 December

Developer to scale back plans for Northumberland solar farm

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Kali from the Chronicle talks to Mark about how we have scaled back plans by listening to the community. Kali Lindsay writes an unbiased piece in the Chronicle, read the original article here. She talks to Mark Rowcroft about our… Read more

Kali from the Chronicle talks to Mark about how we have scaled back plans by listening to the community.

Kali Lindsay writes an unbiased piece in the Chronicle, read the original article here.
She talks to Mark Rowcroft about our amended plans in response to the community’s feedback gained from pre-planning local engagements.

Exagen bosses say panels to the south east of the site, near Whittonstall, have been removed from the plans.

A developer has scaled back plans for a Northumberland solar farm after residents raised concerns about it becoming an eyesore.

Exagen Limited has lodged a pre-planning application for a renewable energy park at Highfield, near Whittonstall that could comprise between 75,000 and 100,000 solar panels.

Known as Highfield Energy Park, some residents are vehemently opposed to the proposals saying Exagen has failed to consult with them over the plans, and fear it will ruin the landscape and have a negative impact on wildlife.

READ MORE: Northumberland home to one of best new woodland cabin and lodge stays in the UK

Now, following a series of public exhibitions Exagen’s development director Mark Rowcroft says they have changed the plans after listening to the views of residents at a series of public exhibitions, a question and answer session and webinar.

He said: “We have gone away with all that information and we have refined the design and go out to the community again and say ‘Right, we’ve listened, this is what we’ve ended up with’ and that’s what we’ve based the planning application submission on.

“The main change has been removing an area of panels to the south east of the site.

These were the ones that essentially wrapped around the existing properties that were there but were least well screened when you looked from Ebchester and County Durham into the site.

Those are the ones that didn’t really benefit from the extensive tree planting that was there. So we have removed them in their entirety.”

As well as the visual impact, Mr Rowcroft said concerns had been raised about the negative impact the scheme would have on wildlife in the area.

He added: “We have also increased the woodland buffer so the standoff that runs through the middle of the site where the access track is, we have increased that standoff further and in doing so we have increased the area we have used for new planting and habitat creations. So those are the main ones and the site is pretty different to the one we originally had at consultation.”

Campaigners fear the development will destroy the “treasured rural landscape” and industrialise the rural area, and would have a devastating impact on the community, wildlife and ancient woodland.

“People have these knee jerk concerns that they have seen on the internet and what people have told them, but as soon as we have an opportunity to talk to them and explain how these things work a lot of these fears tend to vanish,” Mr Rowcroft said.

Despite a full Environmental Impact Assessment not needing to be carried out, Mr Rowcroft said all the surveys had been done.

“The local authority still says it doesn’t require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) but all of the reports that have gone into it have been done.

“In terms of our obligations to the planning process, we have not only done them but we have gone further than them to ensure we full understand what is going on on the site.

“We have done a full Environmental Impact Assessment and we are also doing ongoing bird surveys that weren’t asked for as part of the screening process but so we understand all of the site’s sensitivities.

“When it comes to the final building of the project we will be totally informed about what to watch out for and what to mitigate.

“It needs us to start thinking about what we need to put on the site. The solar farm is one element of it. What new habitats can be created? A lot of that is decided by the assessments we do so we know what is there and what we want to promote on the site.”

A full planning application is expected to be submitted to Northumberland County Council in the coming weeks, giving residents a further opportunity to comment on the plans.

Mr Rowcroft added: “I always say to people if you are going to object, look and tell us what you object to but also tell us what you want in terms of changing the design, even if you don’t want it to happen, it might happen, and if it’s going to happen it should be in a form that’s most acceptable to you.”