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Solar firm's appeal will be test for new guideline

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 30, 2013

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Government attempts to halt the march of unpopular renewable energy schemes will be tested by an appeal by developers who want to build a large solar farm on the edge of Exmoor.

Residents of Morebath, near Dulverton, were rejoicing in February when plans for the region's biggest combined solar farm came to nothing.

One application was withdrawn while a second, to erect 23,500 solar panels on 45 acres of farmland at Keens Farm, was unanimously refused planning permission by Mid Devon District Council.

Villagers, whose homes are just two miles outside the southern fringe of the national park, feared the pair of neighbouring solar-panel installations, which would be large enough to house eight Wembley Stadiums, would destroy the natural beauty of the valley.

Now it has emerged that Juwi, the German firm behind the 40-acre project, earmarked for cattle grazing land, has appealed to the Planning Inspectorate. Campaigners hope that a shake-up in planning guidelines designed to increase the power of locals to reject schemes is reflected in the inspector's decision.

Action group spokesman Peter Gibson said the appeal would provide an "early test" of the policy change, which came after stinging criticism of the proliferation of solar and wind schemes by Conservative MPs, such as Sarah Woolaston and Geoffrey Cox.

"The decision of the planning committee was unanimous and we really thought this had gone away," Mr Gibson added.

"We are fighting this all the way and making a strong submission – as are the district council. We think we have a good case but with these things you are in the lap of the gods.

"As far as we are concerned the company is attempting to ride roughshod over people's opinions."

In the run up to Mid Devon Council's planning meeting, the application for a 5MW photo-voltaic solar farm at Loyton Farm was withdrawn. But a separate company continued with its application to erect a 5.7MW scheme at Keens Farm, closer to the village, which saw more than 400 people object.

The authority's planning and regeneration officer recommended refusal, primarily due to visual aspects of the scheme, which would sit in a valley in rolling countryside.

After the decision, Juwi Renewable Energy asked the council to "reconsider its reasons", revising the project to cover 30 acres – about the size of 22 football pitches.

Juwi said it had made efforts to consult households, adding it planned to screen the site, plant wild flower meadows and graze sheep in the area.

The decision by a planning officer in respect of Morebath will be based on written submissions, with a decision expected later this year.

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