We should not be losing solar farm appeals in South Shropshire

I am disappointed and rather angry that a planning inspector has allowed a solar farm to go ahead above Neen Sollars, near Cleobury Mortimer. I don’t think that this appeal needed to have been lost.

The Neen Sollars decision follows the approval by another planning inspector of a solar farm at Acton Scott. A decision on an application for a solar farm at Whitton is due any day. I fear for the result.

All three solar farm applications were turned down by the South Planning Committee against the advice of officers. In all three cases, councillors have subsequently been excluded from the appeal process. The council’s case was submitted after the planning inspectorate deadline for two of the three appeals. To me this suggests that the technical documentation was prepared under hurried pressure. And for all three applications, the appeal case has been written by the same planning team that enthusiastically supported the planning application at the South Planning Committee.

I think if councillors had been allowed to take part in these appeals, we would have put forward a stronger case. I believe we could have won the Acton Scott and Neen Sollars appeals.

Many members of the South Planning Committee are also angry at these two decisions. We don’t take our decisions lightly. They are not easy to make. We take responsibility for our yes or no decisions. But this commitment seems to matter for nothing when it comes to appeals.

Matters are likely to come to a head at the Henley Hall solar farm appeal in April.

This appeal began in the same way as Acton Scott, Neen Sollars and Whitton. The councillors that rejected the application, myself included, were once again kept out of the appeal process by planning officers. The planning team submitted its case within a hair’s breadth of the planning inspectorate deadline. At least it was not late this time. Fortunately, I was able to negotiate a separate submission on behalf of Tracey and Richard Huffer, Viv Parry and myself. There are significant differences between the council’s case, which is on behalf of the South Planning Committee, and our case. We even disagree on why the South Planning Committee rejected the application.

We shouldn’t be losing planning appeals. I don’t think we lost the Acton Scott and Neen Sollars solar farm appeals because the South Planning Committee made the wrong decision. The problem lies in Shropshire Council’s procedures for fighting appeals. Those procedures more often than not involve excluding the democratically elected councillors that made the decision.

I am among a number of councillors currently pressing for an overhaul of how appeals are dealt with in the south planning area. The reputation of Shropshire Council’s planning department is on the line after these two appeal failures.

Rocks Farm

Shropshire Council has ruled that an environmental impact assessment is not required for a solar farm proposal south of Rocks Farm (15/02288/SCR). This is on the opposite bank of Ledwyche Brook to the proposed solar farm at Henley Hall. The application, for what is known as a screening opinion, was made by Hammersmith based Global Renewables Construction Limited. No other details are currently available.

Rocks_Farm_location_plan_with_Henley_Hall

3 thoughts on “We should not be losing solar farm appeals in South Shropshire

  1. Feels a bit like the tail wagging the dog Andy. It is the councillors who are the elected representatives of the people of Shropshire, the officers are the councillors’ advisors and, like all advice, what they have to say can either be accepted or rejected. I think a little bit of in-house training on who has responsibility for what would not go amiss.

    JoyceB

  2. If unelected officers have powers to exclude the elected officials who are the voice of the people then I feel we are on the path to dictatorial institutions rather like the Whitehall civil servants who are nameless, faceless behind the scenes politicos.

    I find that worrying in a country that purports to be one of the bastions of democracy in the world.

    There should be transparency at all levels, including this.

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