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Wickham Hall solar farm: 'The area, which is the green lungs for many people living in Bishop's Stortford, would become a sea of unnatural glinting glass, unchanging across the seasons'

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A new campaign group, Residents Against Wickham Hall Solar Farm, has set out its concerns about energy generation plans for agricultural land straddling the East Herts and Uttlesford border...

Wickham Hall Solar Farm is a proposed mass development on land to the west of Wickham Hall. It would be built on over 125 acres of Green Belt land and a further 155 acres which are also ‘best and most versatile farmland’ – an area defined in the district plan as Protected Rural Area Beyond the Green Belt.

In total, that’s approximately 215 football pitches of protected countryside scarred with 36,000 solar panels standing 3m high in 60m long banks, which will all be contained in 10km of 2.5m high deer-proof fencing with over 55 CCTV cameras and 10 containers for battery storage. Hardly in keeping with the rural area or protecting Green Belt land.

A solar farm. (54277582)
A solar farm. (54277582)

By definition “Green Belts are a buffer between towns, and between town and countryside” which protect from uncontained urban sprawl. Government policy on protections for the Green Belt is clear, it attaches great importance to them.

National planning frameworks urge local planning authorities to maximise the use of suitable brownfield or previously developed sites before considering development on the best-quality farmland and Green Belt.

At Wickham Hall, farmland that has been farmed for generations will be turned over to an energy company for 40 years, with over 280 acres of open countryside being fenced off for two generations – beautiful, valued country walks would become directed corridors.

Wickham Hall solar farm plans (54277467)
Wickham Hall solar farm plans (54277467)

The area, which is the ‘green lungs’ for many people living in Bishop's Stortford and a valued area for residents of surrounding villages, would become a sea of unnatural glinting glass, unchanging across the seasons.

This, coupled with planned developments of a similar nature at Manuden, Berden and Stocking Pelham, Thaxted and Felsted, will have a significant adverse impact on our wider community and surrounding countryside.

More importantly, wildlife such as deer, protected bats, birds of prey, badgers and many others frequent these fields. Their habitats would be significantly disturbed, possibly damaged forever. Surely that is not a legacy we want to leave our children until 2065?

No one is denying that green energy is important, or the imperative to change our carbon footprint. Local opposition groups to this development rightly agree with that. But the loss of protected Green Belt, contributing to the uncontained sprawl of Bishop’s Stortford, removal of valuable farmland from the food supply chain and the impact on local wildlife and countryside, far outweigh the limited green benefits.

Wickham Hall landowner David Harvey and one of his dogs, Trixie, on the farm. Picture: Vikki Lince
Wickham Hall landowner David Harvey and one of his dogs, Trixie, on the farm. Picture: Vikki Lince

An industrial development in this countryside location is not the right solution. Our rural landscape, valued farmland and Green Belt should be protected.

In addition to the need to protect Green Belt land, there is the question of whether mass solar energy production is effective in this country. In short, no it isn’t.

The UK is not blessed with sunshine, especially when electricity is most needed, and battery technology is not at a stage where it can store energy from summer to winter for use when it's most needed. Solar has a place in the energy supply but neither the panels nor the batteries are advanced enough to invest tens of millions in almost 200 acres of prime farmland at the moment.

Wickham Hall solar farm plans (54277455)
Wickham Hall solar farm plans (54277455)

Communities that would be directly impacted feel strongly that the area around Wickham Hall is not the right setting for industrial development. It would have a lasting impact, with no guarantees around decommissioning of the site or returning the land to Green Belt and agriculture.

There have been over 300 planning objections to the proposals to date. This is the time for planners to consider the long-term impact of such developments and the precedent they may set for our green and pleasant land.

See the campaign group on Facebook @objecttowickhamsolar and email @objecttowickhamsolar@gmail.com.

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