Campaigners’ passionate plea to protect ‘beautiful’ Derbyshire countryside from development

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This is our last chance to save this land for the next generation,” say passionate campaigners calling for “beautiful” Derbyshire countryside to be protected from development

Land stretching from Alfeton to Oakerthorpe in Amber Valley has become a focal point for new developments over the past couple of years.

This includes current plans under consideration for 53 homes off the A615/Belper Road through Oakerthorpe; a 240-home retirement village off Wingfield Road next to Alfreton Golf Club; and a large solar farm across the fields between Oakerthorpe and Alfreton, north of Wingfield Road.

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Plans from Waters Homes Ltd for 37 houses were approved in August 2020 for land next to the golf club, also stemming off Wingfield Road, and are now under construction.

Members of the Save Alfreton Countryside group campaigning to protect local green spaces from developmentMembers of the Save Alfreton Countryside group campaigning to protect local green spaces from development
Members of the Save Alfreton Countryside group campaigning to protect local green spaces from development
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North Derbyshire planning applications - from Chesterfield and Dronfield to Kill...

Campaign group Save Alfreton Countryside aims to see all three of these proposed schemes rejected, declaring an early victory in one case – that of the solar farm.

Amber Valley Borough Council rejected plans from Kronos Solar for the solar farm scheme, across scores of acres of fields, which was said to have been capable of powering 11,500 homes.

It was thought to be too large, disruptive and in the wrong place by more than 750 objectors including councillors, the area’s MP Nigel Mills and the neighbouring special school.

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Fields between Alfreton and Oakerthorpe have become a hotbed for potential developmentFields between Alfreton and Oakerthorpe have become a hotbed for potential development
Fields between Alfreton and Oakerthorpe have become a hotbed for potential development

However, now the developer has launched an appeal with the Government planning inspectorate in a bid to see its scheme approved.

Talking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Jamie Selby, spokesperson for the Save Alfreton Countryside group, which has 1,600 members, said: “You couldn’t pick a more unsuitable location for these developments.

“The site is surrounded on effectively all four corners by heritage assets and as you can see today, they are bailing at the moment so it is clearly still capable of being farmed.

“Wingfield Manor is in the top one per cent of all important buildings in the UK and to say you can’t see it from here and it is not important is disingenuous.

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“The local residents thoroughly love this area, it is beautiful. It is all currently open countryside, a beautiful landscape, the land would be completely eroded if these developments are approved.”

He said the nation’s food security is of high importance, particularly now, and taking up viable agricultural land for housing and a solar farm would be a poor use of the space.

Mr Selby, 45, who has lifelong ties to the area, walking through the fields since the early 80s, said the site is also close to the Church of St Martin’s, Alfreton Hall and the Peacock pub and restaurant – one of the county’s oldest pubs.

He detailed that Amber Valley has proven it has enough housing stock – approved, built and under-construction homes – without approving more sites for further properties.

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Mr Selby, who runs a recruitment agency, said: “There just isn’t any need to build on any more green fields, there is no need to destroy any green fields, they should be being farmed, it is arable agricultural land.”

He said that plans from Chevin Homes to build six houses on land which is currently derelict agricultural buildings next to the Peacock is a good use of the space which can be supported.

Campaigners said the site of three-metre high solar panels on the fields would “destroy” the countryside for those living nearby and those viewing the area from further away.

Hundreds of further vehicle movements from the proposed residential schemes were also a key concern, as well as the pressure the proposals could place on health services and schools.

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They hailed the area of countryside between Alfreton and Oakerthorpe as the “last bit of green space” available, with Mr Selby saying the area had been a “lifesaver” during the pandemic with mental and physical health benefits.

Mr Selby said there are currently 1,200 houses either approved, under construction or under consideration around Alfreton.

“This development would infill the gap between Alfreton and Oakerthorpe, it would be all the eye can see,” he said.

Debbie Horabin, who has lived in the area for 20 years, said she walks the fields which could become a solar farm every day.

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She said: “I am devastated that it is being considered. It would just be tragic and once the land is gone it is gone.

“The rate technology is advancing, solar panels will be out of date, they shouldn’t be taking up fields for solar farms when they could build them on the industrial sites.

“As for the retirement village plans, people take their lives into their hands trying to cross the road, and it is next to a nature reserve. It will be bringing all of that noise and disruption.

“It is just devastating for the wildlife, they would be driven out of their habitats.”

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Karen Bradley, who has lived in the area for a decade, said a survey of rooftop space available on industrial buildings in Somercotes found that there is more than enough room to install solar panels and generate the same amount of electricity as the solar farm.

To take up the fields, instead of using rooftop space, was “bonkers”, she said.

Pam Crofts has lived next to the site since 1970 and said: “People of my age and my generation feel that we are guardians for the next generation. If we don’t make a stand now we have lost this land forever. This is our last chance to save this land for the next generation.

“Once they get the diggers in we will not be able to stop it. We are not NIMBYs (“Not In My Back Yard”) – we are all for alternative energy.

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“I have watched over these fields all my life and I think Alfreton has given enough to the energy production of this world. The coal mines ran for generations so many miners effectively gave their lives. When I was a child we used to play on the slag heaps of the pits, and now we are being asked to give over our green fields for solar energy.”

Scott Moore, a planning consultant for Prospection Ltd, the firm behind plans for a 240-home retirement village for over 55s off Wingfield Road, said local concerns have been taken into account and could largely be avoided.

A core reason for the chosen site, he said, is the apparently impossible task of obtaining a town centre plot due to competition with traditional housing developers who can pay more money for land.

Mr Moore told the LDRS that the development should have a much lower impact than traditional housing schemes because the residents would be retirees and many services would be built on the site itself, requiring less travel from a population who also expected to travel less anyway.

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Minibuses would help transport residents off-site for trips, he said.

Mr Moore said: “There are lower trips expected from residents aged 75+ who will be most of the residents on the development and there would not be any school-related journeys. The traffic impact is thought to be minimal.

“They certainly would have people visiting them but there would be very little travel by car and we would be providing pedestrian crossings for people to use facilities in the town centre. At the moment, people have to cut across the road and walk down the verge and on substandard footpaths, so our footpath plans are a massive improvement on the road safety side of things.

“It is a fair distance from people generally and all construction will take place on-site. Noise goes with that of course.”

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He said the firm has been working with Derbyshire County Council to secure bus stop facilities outside the site, saying the development would create more demand for bus services.

Mr Moore said the scheme would create a “significant” number of new jobs, totalling 100 overall, with part-time and full-time roles for landscaping, maintenance, cleaning, catering and carers.

He said: “Keeping older people together and care services on-site should reduce the burden on the local care services.

“It should also free up family-sized houses currently occupied by elderly people living on their own, releasing those homes back into the housing stock.

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“There is nothing else in Derbyshire coming forward like this and it is only possible because the site owners wanted this to happen.

“There will be no trees cut down and at the moment it is just a field for hay products, surrounded by quite a big woodland. We do not think it is going to be too visible.

“There will be a huge amount of trees on the site.

“We do want to protect the countryside but we are not going to find these sites in towns and it is not in the green belt.

“A lot of care homes are not up to scratch and we need more retirement homes in the housing supply. Some bungalows will be built as part of residential schemes but these are often extended.

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“People will always complain and always object to it but maybe people should look at what we are trying to do and see that we are not looking to vandalise the countryside.”

John Fearnehough, director at Chevin Homes, responsible for the 53-home scheme off the A615/Belper Road through Oakerthorpe, shared the news that the development would be slightly reduced in size.

He wrote: “Further to our initial planning application in September 2021, Chevin Homes have been working hard with Amber Valley Borough Council to address the concerns of planning officers and local residents and have this week submitted a revised and replanned layout which reduces the number of dwellings proposed to 43 and provides a sensitive layout with more open space.”

Kronos Solar, the firm behind the solar farm scheme, was approached for comment but did not provide a statement.

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Previously, the firm said that turning down the scheme risked “undermining” the need to act on climate change and would mean the UK relies on others to make changes.

An agent for the firm had said in December’s planning meeting, at which the plans were rejected: “The harm is limited, temporary and in our view outweighed by the significant public benefit.”

The spokesperson had written: “If these proposals do not come forward here, in these conditions, they will not come forward anywhere in the UK.”

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