Lincolnshire MPs debate solar farm plans in Parliament

Published on 12 March 2022, by Gainsboroughlive | No comments yet |

Lincolnshire MPs took to Parliament today (Wednesday, March 9) to discuss plans for solar farms in the county.

The Westminster Hall debate included several MPs in the county sharing their thoughts, led by MP for Bassetlaw Brendan Clarke-Smith (Conservative), who worked alongside the ‘No Solar Desert’ protest group.

It also included Sir Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, amongst other MPs in the county.

Several MPs in the county are calling for tighter controls for local authorities to make decisions on renewable energy sources.

Mr Clarke-Smith is calling for more local people to have their say on large solar farms by implementing more regulations, which will also protect farmland and ensure renewable energy proposals are in the right place.

He warned against a “wild west-style gold rush” where developers looked to increase profitability.

He said: “Sensitive planning has an important role to play in the visual impact of solar farms and low carbon infrastructure.”

Our Gainsborough MP, Edward Leigh, said his constituency was “going to be ringed” by a solar farm equivalent in size to 4,000 football pitches.

The Gate Burton Energy Park, near Knaith Park and Willingham by Stow, anticipates that it will generate 500 megawatts and power more than 160,000 homes.

However, Mr Leigh accused the size of the farm of being a ‘cheat of the planning system.’

He said: “They actually look to accumulate a certain acreage so it becomes a National Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) and bypasses the local planning system.”

Whilst stating they were supportive of renewable energy due to positive impacts for the country, many of the Conservative MPs feared there could be an unbalance between the gains from the farms and the losses of the agricultural land.

This concern particularly surrounds a lack of food security, with wheat imports being impacted by Brexit. While some papers state that wheat will be impacted by the war in Ukraine, the UK only imports 1.4% of the total Ukraine wheat exports (OEC 2019

Rutland MP Alicia Kearns said the Mallard Pass Solar Farm, covering 2,000 acres of farmland across the Rutland and Stamford border, was an example of developers using the NSIP process to “bypass the will of the community.”

She reiterated her concerns over the supply line, with Canada Solar having strong ties to China.

She said: “Canada Solar is a company that’s seeking to infiltrate our country with Uyghur blood labour.

“This is the company proposing to build in Rutland.

“They are putting Uyghur people into concentration camps and using them to build solar panels and I will not see these installed in Rutland.”

She added: “We will be delivering a petition to parliament.

“Ultimately we need a national policy on solar farms, we cannot see this constant competition for the biggest possible solar farm imposed all across the UK.

“We need to make sure we do not have tainted supply lines and we make sure we protect our natural environment and ability to feed our people.”

MPs also expressed their concerns surrounding animal rights abuses in the production process of materials and equipment, the carbon impacts, lack of grid infrastructure and safety of the batteries used to store the power.

NSIPs are decided by the government’s planning inspector instead of local planning authorities, though they can submit comments to the minister.

Under the government’s current policy, solar farms under 50MW can be decided locally, but those above are passed to the government.

Grantham MP Gareth Davies said plans for Mallard Pass were causing a “tremendous amount of concern for local people” and that the response from the developers to his queries “has been unconvincing.”

He said: “They have done little to address the concerns of my constituents,” telling the debate they were “relying on statutory requirements.”

He added that the planning inspectorate needed to fully take into account residents concerns, saying they had so far “been left disillusioned.”

He also said there also needed to be a national infrastructure strategy including local developments.

Spalding MP Sir John Hayes said the sites were “often grade one or two land,” stating that they should instead be used for food production.

He said: “It’s absolutely right we should put it on industrial, commercial and domestic buildings with power long before we should consider putting it in the fields and from demand with all the transmission costs.

“Until we have solar panels on every building there should be none on fields at all.”

He added that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up and Housing had “made it absolutely clear that beauty should be at the heart of the process.”

He said: “No solar park, or industrial wind turbine, could pass any test of beauty except the most perverse and corrupted one.

“It is right that we consider renewables but not on any terms at any cost.”

MPs were told by Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy George Freeman that there were strict controls being consulted on. This includes controls over consultation and environmental statements.

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