The plans, from Kronos Solar, were rejected by Amber Valley Borough Council’s planning board by a near-unanimous vote last night (Dec 6).
Councillors felt that the plans, across fields from Alfreton to Shirland and across to Oakerthorpe, were simply too large and in the wrong place, preferring solar panels to be placed on industrial buildings and on brownfield land.
Cllr Dave Wells, Green Party, reminded the board that he had tried to make the installation of solar panels on industrial buildings an issue which the authority would push all developers to do, but this had been voted down.
Councillors felt that the negative impact of the scheme on the landscape was too great and outweighed the benefit of the solar farm itself, which is said to have been capable of powering 11,500 homes – three times the number of households in Alfreton.
Council officers also felt the same way due to the “magnitude” of the scheme, which would have remained on the site for 40 years.
Residents, who submitted more than 750 objection letters, said they support plans for renewable energy generation but that this site and the scale of the proposal were not acceptable.
A spokesperson for the developer said this had been a key missed opportunity to take words on climate change and turn them into action.
Four residents, including the chair of governors at Alfreton Park Community Special School, spoke against the plans in last night’s meeting.
John Glasby, chair of governors at the special school next to the site, said he was speaking on behalf of hundreds of children, many of whom have not yet been born, who would make use of the educational facility over the next 40 years.
He said the school was set to move to new £12 million premises next to its current site and said he now feels “betrayed by the possibility of an industrial installation” next door.
Mr Glasby said the outdoor areas at the new site had been set up so that children could have a few minutes to themselves in peace and quiet if something had triggered their emotions.
This, he said, would not be possible if there was the persistent hum of background noise from the solar farm. The council’s pollution officer said there was no evidence before them to say sound would prove intolerable.
Mr Glasby said: “There is nowhere in the world where a solar farm has been built so close to a school such as ours.
“The parents are right to be concerned.”
Jamie Selby, who lives in the closest property to the site with his three young children, said he and his family had moved to their home as part of a dream to live in the countryside – a dream he felt would be quashed if the solar farm was approved.
He said: “This would be a gross intrusion into our life. We would be left looking out at a sea of plastic and glass, taking us unwillingly into the middle of a power plant.”
Mr Selby felt the complete loss of their countryside view would impact his family’s physical and mental health, saying: “My children’s wellbeing should not be gambled away.”
Richard Marsden, an Alfreton resident, said the footpaths from Alfreton to Shirland showed their real value during the pandemic as ways in which residents could relieve their mental health stresses by walking in the countryside from their homes.
He said: “This is the last open countryside left around Alfreton. It will become little different to walking through an industrial estate.”
Mr Marsden also said the path through the proposed site was clearly the footpath which acclaimed author DH Lawrence references in his 1913 novel Sons and Lovers.
Peter Milner, an objecting resident, said the impact of the plans on the environment “far outweighed” the case for allowing an “industrialised solar array”.
He claimed it would be a “human tragedy” if the scheme was allowed, contravening the Human Rights Act and said the view from the community had been “very loud and very clear”.
Cllr Valerie Thorpe, one of the ward councillors for the site, said the proposals were “monstrous” and had “never” seen a planning application “that is more out of keeping with the surrounding area”.
She said a nearby farm “will likely be surrounded by solar panels as far as the eye can see” and that the “loss of tranquillity would be catastrophic” for pupils at the neighbouring special school.
Will Savage, speaking on behalf of Kronos Solar, said the borough took the “bold” step in 2019 to declare a climate emergency but now “words must become action”, especially in the wake of the COP26 conference.
He said the scheme had been reduced by a quarter and the firm has offered to contribute £10,000 a year to local community projects,
Mr Savage said: “The harm is limited, temporary and in our view outweighed by the significant public benefit.”
He said turning the application risked “undermining” the need to act on climate change and would mean the UK relies on others to make changes.
Cllr Jack Brown said: “On the TV you see it every day about climate change and it is not good, we need to cut the emissions down, we need to do it – but that piece of land is of better use for agriculture and walking land.
“We need to find spaces to put these things. They should be put on industrial buildings.”
Cllr Wells said he was “conflicted” about the application due to the benefit of enough annual electricity to power three times the homes in Alfreton against the landscape impact.
He asked the developer to come back with a reduced plan which would take away the “tunnel” effect of walking down the footpath through the proposed site.