At a crunch meeting next week, Amber Valley Borough Council is recommended to turn down proposals from Kronos Solar to build a solar farm covering more than 260 acres between Alfreton, Shirland and Oakerthorpe.
The farm, which crosses Amber Valley and North East Derbyshire, is said to be capable of generating enough electricity to power 11,500 homes – three times the number of households in the town.
However, the authority’s officers have recommended that the plans are refused, saying the “magnitude” of the scheme would have a “significant” impact on the countryside.
They write that the public benefit of the clean energy scheme, in a borough which has declared a climate emergency, does not outweigh its substantial negative impact.
Officers say: “The attractive unspoilt, green qualities of the site would be replaced with regimented rows of uniform solar panels mounted on metal frames.
“This over-utilitarian form of the development would erode the rural and pastoral character of these fields and diminish their contribution to the key landscape characteristics.”
They claim the development would have a “considerable urbanising impact on this area of open countryside”.
Kronos Solar said it is “disappointed” at the recommended refusal and alleges that “if these proposals do not come forward here, in these conditions, they will not come forward anywhere in the UK”.
It feels the level of “hostility” directed at the scheme could suggest the UK is not ready or willing to act on climate change.
In opposition are the area’s town and parish councils, county and borough councillors for the area, past and present, including the county council leader, Cllr Barry Lewis.
Nearly 700 objection letters have been submitted opposing the application, with four supporting the scheme.
Out of all the organisations the borough council had to consult on the plans, only the county council’s archaeologist formally objected, with the rest in favour of the scheme if a range of protective conditions are met.
Other consultees, including the Peak and Northern Footpaths Society, the county council’s strategic planning department and the borough council’s heritage officer, have also objected.
Cllr Valerie Thorpe, a borough councillor, wrote: “For the people of Alfreton and Oakerthorpe and other areas, this will have a devastating effect on the enjoyment of walks, replacing Alfreton’s only green space with 300 acres of solid solar panels.
She said she is “totally against such a huge proposal – it is far too big, overpowering the area completely, changing the whole heritage and important landscape denying the industrial town of Alfreton and Oakerthorpe its only beautiful escape to walk freely into the countryside – as they have done for 100s of years”.
Cllr Trevor Ainsworth, the county council’s chairman, wrote that while he is not against solar power, he finds the scale of the proposal “monstrous”.
He said: “The recent months have shown us that we need space to exercise and be at peace with ourselves and nature, for our own mental wellbeing.
“This development will have the effect that anyone using the path would feel imprisoned by wire fencing.”
The Local Democracy Reporting Service detailed last month that the county council feared the impact of the scheme on pupils at the neighbouring special school – with a brand new £12 million school under construction.
This fear was supported by the school’s chair of governors, who said the solar farm would “present potential dangers for our children”.
Cllr Ainsworth said: “The children attending this school have special needs and whilst using the outside areas of the school the children would get far more benefit overlooking rolling fields rather than large sheets of glass as far as the eye can see.”
Cllr Lewis said he would support smaller schemes that do not have such a detrimental impact on the area.
The county council says it is of “considerable concern” that “the sight of such an expanse of glass (photovoltaic panels) and the associated reflection could be very detrimental to the type of students at the school as their behaviour can be challenging at times and the calm environment is essential”.
Residents and councillors have raised concerns about the link between footpaths across the proposed site which are believed to be linked to author DH Lawrence, who was born in Alfreton.
The author is believed to have walked regularly from Alfreton via the fields to Wingfield Manor and Crich, referenced in his 1913 novel Sons and Lovers.
A heritage expert hired by the applicants says this connection is “intangible heritage” and considers it a “fairly loose cultural association” to the site.
They wrote: “There are a number of footpaths which he and his companions are likely to have used regularly during their ramblings through the area and the path he took to Wingfield Manor (referenced in Sons and Lovers) may indeed be the one that crosses the application area. However, it is not considered that this in itself would give the footpath heritage significance.”
In October, the borough council approved Anesco Ltd’s plans to build a 94-acre solar farm north of Alfreton, bordering the sewage treatment works and Meadow Land Industrial Estate – providing enough electricity to power 5,000 homes.
James Owen, head of UK business development for Kronos, said the 260-acre site is one of four currently under development by the firm around the UK.
This includes another potential site in Derbyshire, covering 168 acres just outside the Chesterfield suburb of Hasland, alongside the A617.
Mr Owen said the firm would provide funding to invest in public amenities.
A council report ahead of next week’s meeting on December 6 said it is willing to contribute £10,000 each year to “small-scale local projects of a recreational nature in the geographic boundaries of the parishes in which the development is located”.
A spokesperson for Kronos Solar said: “We are disappointed that the council has recommended refusal of the plans, despite declaring a climate emergency and committing to net zero by 2030.
“Coming just weeks after COP26, a scheme such as this is of national importance. We hope that the benefits of the proposals, to the climate emergency, our environment, and our climate, will be recognised by councillors when they make their decision.
“However, we need to be clear what this decision means. If these proposals do not come forward here, in these conditions, they will not come forward anywhere in the UK. Amber Valley Council has taken the important first step of recognising the climate change crisis, but this must be followed by action.
“If renewable energy projects receive this level of hostility right after the UK has made bold commitments on climate change, are we confident we are ready and willing to act? Or is it simply ‘greenwashing’?”