COUNCILLORS have approved plans for a huge solar farm near Thornbury despite more than 100 objections. 

South Gloucestershire Council development management committee recently granted permission to create the new plant across 15 agricultural fields at Varley Farm near Cromhall.

But a resident accused the local authority of “blindly” accepting a report commissioned by the applicants, multinational company RES Group.

The resident also said that the report which downgraded the quality of the farmland used a method he claimed to be “totally bogus”, saying this made it “open to corruption”.

Planning officers, who recommended giving the plans the go-ahead, insisted the findings were from an independent study by government-backed experts.

Gazette Series: The current farm-track entrance leading to the fields where the solar farm would be built The current farm-track entrance leading to the fields where the solar farm would be built

Speaking on behalf of the 122 residents who objected to the development, qualified surveyor Cyrus Contractor told the meeting on Thursday, January 18, that RES was a massive firm with a £1 billion annual turnover that would just sell off the land to make money.

He said: “They are highly experienced at planning and defeating us irritating little locals who care about boring things like our green village, communities, our children getting to school safely, heritage, as well as global issues like climate change.

“I am convinced that RES has absolutely no interest in climate change – solar farms are just a way to make more money.

“They are simply creating an asset to sell off to the highest bidder.

“There is no benefit to the local community whatsoever – the electricity produced will just be exported to the National Grid.

“The community suffers all of the downsides and none of the upsides.

“Our village is a thriving and historic agricultural village.

“We should not be forced to surrender productive farmland to a highly aggressive and commercial power company, bullying its way across the world with its money and influence.”

Gazette Series: Satellite view of the fields where the solar farm would be built near CromhallSatellite view of the fields where the solar farm would be built near Cromhall

Mr Contractor said the council’s declaration of a climate emergency meant it shared the same goals as RES and so could not be neutral in determining the proposals.

He said: “There is a deep conflict of interest in this application’s assessment and it shows up very clearly in the planning officer’s recommendation and report [which] excludes the conservation officer’s recommendation to refuse the application due to the damage to the setting of four listed buildings.

“The agricultural land classification consultant, paid for by the developer, has selected a methodology that makes their classification completely personal and optional.

“Surprise, surprise, it then turns out that the land has now mysteriously become of a much lower grade.

“To achieve this lower grading, the developer and the consultant have used a totally bogus methodology, and the local planning authority has blindly accepted it.

“There is no other word for it – it is a racket. 

“This is not just insulting to the village, it is insulting to this committee to be fobbed off with a document that is so open to corruption.”

He said the officer’s report also excluded the fact that extra building was needed to complete the solar farm, which will be returned to farming use after 40 years, with pylons and electrical substations allowed under permitted development to connect to the National Grid.

Parish council raise fears surrounding children's safety 

Cromhall parish councillor Daren Jeffery said: “We strongly object to the construction of Varley Solar Farm.

“It will have an overall negative impact on the immediate neighbours to the site, the village and the wider community.”

He said children were dropped off from the school bus and walked home along Farleigh Lane, a twisty, rural road, and that the addition of lorries going in and out of the site during construction was a “death-trap waiting to happen”.

But senior planning officer Rae Mepham said the plans were acceptable, including road safety, and that the benefits outweighed the harms.

She said the agricultural land was re-graded because the previous analysis was carried out back in the 1980s, which at the time did not include as many categories of soil quality.

Ms Mepham said the work was done by an independent, qualified company using a Defra-approved rating system.

Gazette Series: The current farm-track entrance leading to the fields where the solar farm would be built The current farm-track entrance leading to the fields where the solar farm would be built

Cllr June Bamford said that although new trees and hedgerows would be planted, these would not screen the site completely because the solar panels would be up to 3.5 metres tall, so there would be “harm to the environment”, as well as noise from the equipment.

She said: “The other thing I’m particularly concerned about is there is a great deal of taxpayers’ money being shovelled at energy firms.

“I’m not saying this company is necessarily getting our taxpayer funding but I’m concerned that 40 years is a long way away and it could end up being 50 if it takes another eight or 10 years to be connected to the National Grid.

“I would have liked to have seen the company pay a large bond upfront so that the taxpayer does not foot the bill for any clean-up after 40 years because we don’t know whether that company is going to be there.”

Cllr Bamford said that although enough clean energy would be produced to power 8,300 homes, these would not necessarily be local, so there was no real benefit to the community.

Head of development management Marie Bath said the committee had recently granted consent for two bigger solar farms.

RES Group project manager Bertrand Devossel said the scheme would save 600,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions over its lifetime, while 100 new trees and a kilometre of hedgerows would be planted.

He said 90 per cent of the land was not classified as “best and most versatile”.