The Chairman introduced the first application of the evening, number 142117 for construction and operation of a solar photovoltaic farm, including fencing, internal service tracks, inverters, transformer stations, cabling, CCTV, landscaping, substations and ancillary cabins at The Old Airfield Reepham Road Fiskerton Lincoln.
Note: The Chairman declared that he had been present at a meeting of the Parish Council when the developer had made a presentation. He confirmed he had had no input and remained impartial.
The Committee heard from the Principal Development Management Officer with updates to the report. He read aloud the following response from Public Protection:
“The contaminated land preliminary appraisal report supplied and associated to 142117 advises in section 6 (Conclusions and Recommendations) that there is potential for localised contaminants to be present across the site which may pose a risk (albeit low) to construction/maintenance workers. In section 7 (Further Works) recommendations are made to investigate this potential risk further during works to identify suitable foundation solutions with sampling and testing of any made ground found in locations likely to be disturbed by groundworks etc.
In view of the above no works, other than the recommended further investigation works, ought to be permitted until the recommendations within the preliminary appraisal report are undertaken and a suitable report to determine if any further action or mitigation is required has been submitted and approved by LPA.”
Additionally, the Principal Development Management Officersuggested an additional condition to be numbered as 5 with subsequent conditions renumbered accordingly, as well as additional words to be added to condition 3. These amendments were read aloud for Members’ understanding.
The Chairman explained there were two registered speakers for the item, he welcomed the first speaker, Mr Cook, Agent for the Applicant, to the meeting and invited him to makae his statement.
Mr Cook made the following statement to the Committee.
“It seems that every day, there is a news report, or scientific evidence, and ultimately a warning in the media about the potentially devastating consequences our planet will face through climate change. In May, 2019, UK Parliament declared a climate emergency, and since then there has been a clear steer and policy direction to reduce or halt, climate change. Central to this is the target to be net zero by 2050, meaning that there is an equal balance between carbon emissions, capture and offsetting. This will affect people's lives. For example, in the way we make commodities in factories, how we travel, and how the energy we all use is generated. The requirement to achieve Net Zero is also central to decision making at a local level. In March this year, the Central Lincolnshire area made a commitment to start the review process of the local plan, and I'm quoting from the Central Lincolnshire website, that “the review process has begun to do more to reduce carbon emissions and to demonstrably assist Central Lincolnshire and becoming a carbon Net Zero sub region, as soon as it is practically possible”. Whilst Lincoln City and North Kesteven have declared a climate emergency, West Lindsey has set targets to reach a net zero position by 2050. It is also understood that West Lindsey is currently developing a sustainability, climate change and environmental strategy. This strategy sets out actions the Council could take to achieve his goal of reaching net zero across these operations by 2050, and for the wider district of West Lindsey.
From the above it is clear that West Lindsey and the proposals before you today have a shared ambition to achieve net zero. Over the life of the proposal enough clean energy will be generated to power over 13,000 homes each year. This will offset over 13,000 tonnes of co2, annually, which is the equivalent of taking 5000 cars off the road. As you'll have read in the planning officers report, there is a very clear need for low carbon and renewable energy generation, but as part of this proposal, other significant benefits will be provided. For example, public access, local biodiversity and heritage. In early 2020 the applicant started an informal pre-application engagement programme with key stakeholders. Unfortunately, COVID restrictions dictated the approach to the consultation. However, local Ward Members, Parish Councils and over 250 homes and businesses were contacted or written to. Public notices were erected on site, and a project website was created, offering the opportunity to comment on the proposals.
It is clear from the feedback, that connectivity, or more specifically, off-road connectivity between the three villages was a key issue. To address this concern, the proposal includes a provision of approximately two and a half kilometres of permissive access routes along the boundaries of the Western parcel of the proposal. This is in addition to the existing public rights of way in and around the application site. Concerns were also raised over the visibility the proposal from Reepham Road in response to proposals include a comprehensive scheme of landscaping, which includes new hedgerows and reinforcement planting along the highway, and an increased setback of the panels of up to 25 metres from the highway. Within the solar farm, a grass pasture mix of tussock and meadow grass will be sown and managed for a life of the site, and this will contribute to increasing biodiversity levels in the local area.
Furthermore, in agreement with Lincolnshire County Council, information boards will be implemented along the footpath and permissive routes around the site that will provide historic information on the former RAF base, and also the solar farm operation. It is considered that the proposed development will make a significant contribution to achieving net zero through clean energy generation in West Lindsey and enhance connectivity for local communities. Therefore, the application and the Planning Officer’s report demonstrates that the proposal is in accordance with a local development plan, and should therefore be approved. Thank you for your time.”
The Chairman thanked Mr Cook and explained there would be a short delay while the desk was cleaned prior to welcoming the second speaker. In due course, the Chairman welcomed Councillor C. Darcel, Ward Member, and invited him to address the Committee.
Councillor Darcel made the following statement.
“Thank you Chairman. I would like to congratulate our Planning Officer, and Mr. Cook, for a wonderful presentation they have put forward in support of this scheme. Their presentation has been brilliant. I would also like to thank our Planning Officer for painting such a lovely picture of the open countryside that Fiskerton is at this moment of time. In view of the fact that the purpose of this Planning Committee is to either approve the application as it is, or reject it, and that it cannot recommend alterations to it, I would only ask this Planning Committee to reject the application for a number of reasons. These are: there was no consultation in Fiskerton as there was in Reepham. It is a huge application, and although I've got nothing against its size, I do think that should have been discussed in the village of Fiskerton, with residents in Fiskerton. I also think, the loss of open countryside and visual amenity is a significant aspect of this application. The road from Fiskerton to Reepham, I'm not too concerned about with views, either side of a road from Fiskerton to Reepham. But when you go from Reepham to Fiskerton at this moment in time, you explode into open countryside. When this application is developed, if it is developed, we will then have a narrow tunnel road all the way from Moor Lane, which is the northern boundary of the site into Fiskerton, and at the moment is all absolutely open countryside. Now, I've suggested, other people have suggested, that if the hedgelines that border the road at the moment were moved further back, then you would keep that open countryside look, and that is one thing which just has not been addressed. It is absolutely true that you have got a wide border between the hedges, south of the ‘nodding donkeys’, but when you are coming from Reepham heading south, you are going to lose an awful lot of that open countryside look, and I think that is a great shame.
Now, there's also a very serious loss of amenity space, at the bottom right of development between the border between Prime Take, and where the solar panels will start. At the moment, that area is very much used by dog walkers and other people who want to just take their dog for a walk, throw a ball for it, throw stick for it and everything else. At the moment, it's probably about 30 metres wide. Now I would like to see that area kept as an amenity area for the village. The village is very poor on open space and that is an important part of it. Now the other thing which I think is also interesting is, I've been to these Planning Committee meetings in the past and I've seen other applications, not nearly as ambitious as this, rejected because of destroying visual amenity and loss of open space. Dog walkers and other people did not want their sense of freedom of the open countryside destroyed and I think this will do it.
Why I'm really concerned is, I think a lot of these issues could have been addressed, if the village of Fiskerton or the Parish Council had been listened to by the applicant, and the applicant’s agent. I would like you to reject the application until these issues that I've mentioned, improving the visual amenity coming out of Reepham, and keeping the open space, are addressed. It would be very easy for the applicant to do, and then I would have no objections to this application, but as it is the village is losing too much, and we're being swamped by sea of solar panels. Thank you.”
The Chairman thanked Councillor Darcel for his comments and enquired of the Officer whether he had any further comments. The Principal Development Management Officer stated that loss of amenity had been dealt with within the report, the loss of space was noted however it was private land with no right of access and he highlighted that the hedges had been moved back.
The Chairman invited comments from the Committee. The definition of the site as being temporary was questioned, to which it was explained that the lifetime of the panels was 40 years and there was a condition for the site to be returned to its former state. In contrast, a housing estate for example would be a permanent development. In addition to returning the site to its former state, the site would be landscaped and it was conditioned that any failures in planting be replaced.
It was enquired whether the rights of way could be upgraded in order to improve access and mobility. It was explained that the developer would be responsible for maintaining the grassed area, however the site would not meet the six tests to be eligible to be upgraded. The proposal did not disrupt or interfere with the existing pathways.
Members of the Committee highlighted the green credentials of the proposal and felt it was an improvement on the look of the site as well as benefitting local wildlife with the proposed planting. Having confirmed the amended conditions, the Offcier recommendation was moved and seconded and, on being taken to the vote, was agreed unanimously that permission be GRANTED subject to the following conditions.
Conditions stating the time by which the development must be commenced:
1. The development hereby permitted shall be begun before the expiration of three years from the date of this permission.
Reason: To conform with Section 91 (1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended).
Conditions which apply or require matters to be agreed before the development commenced:
2. No development shall be carried out until details of a trail trench evaluation informed by the results of the previous geophysical survey has been submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority. The results of the trail trench evaluation including proposed remediation if required shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority and works on the site shall be carried out in full accordance with the details approved.
Reason: To ascertain the significance and condition of archaeological remains that have the potential to be impacted by the development in accordance with Policy LP 25 of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan and paragraph 189 of the National Planning Policy Framework.
3. No development shall be carried out until a detailed Landscape Scheme which includes measures to promote biodiversity which accords with the submitted “Landscape Master Plan date 24.11.20” has been submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority. The approved details shall be carried out in the first planting and seeding seasons following the completion of the development, and any trees or plants which within a period of 5 years from the completion of the development die, are removed or become seriously damaged or diseased shall be replaced in the next planting season with others of similar size and species.
Reason: To help ameliorate the impact of the development within its rural setting and in the interests of biodiversity in accordance with policies LP17, LP21 and LP26 of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan.
4. No development shall take place until an updated badger survey has been undertaken by a suitably experienced ecologist in accordance with the recommendation of the submitted Badger Survey Report date Nov 2020 and the results submitted for the written approval of the local planning authority.
Reason: In the interests of biodiversity in accordance with policy LP21 of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan.
5. No works other than the recommended further investigation works in the Contaminated Land Preliminary Appraisal Report shall be carried out on the site, the results of which shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority to determine if any further action or mitigation is required.
Reason: To address potential contamination risks in accordance with policy LP 16 of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan.
Conditions which apply or are to be observed during the course of the development:
6. With the exception of the detailed matters referred to by the conditions of this approval and the outline planning permission, the development hereby approved shall be carried out in accordance with the following drawings and documents:
Reason: To ensure the development proceeds in accordance with the approved plans in the interests of proper planning.
7. Notwithstanding the details shown on the Proposed Cable Route drawing ARM1007/19/13 permission is granted for the route that connects to Moor Lane without using Fiskerton Road. Any variation must be submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority.
Reason: To reduce potential noise and disturbance in accordance with Policy LP26 of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan
8. Work shall take place on the site in full accordance with the following reports, particularly in relation to mitigation and enhancement
Reason: To protect the interests of biodiversity in accordance with policy LP21 of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework.
9. Activities shall take place in full accordance with the Construction Traffic Method Statement with particular reference to limiting the hours of operation from Monday to Friday 0800 hours to 1800 hours and Saturdays 0800 hours to 1600 hours and at no other times and the restriction on deliveries by large vehicles during the hours of 0815-0915 and 1500-1600 during school term time.
Reason: In the interests of highway safety and reducing noise and disturbance in accordance with Policies LP 13 and LP26 of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan
Conditions which apply or relate to matters which are to be observed following completion of the development:
10. Prior to the solar farm becoming operational details of a Heritage Strategy shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority. This shall include details of the number location and content of a series of Interpretation boards along existing footpaths and permissive paths and a digital resource. This will be in accordance with a brief to be produced by LCC Historic Services in collaboration with West Lindsey District Council's Tourism Officer and Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire. The approved details shall be installed prior to the solar farm becoming operational and maintained and retained thereafter.
Reason: To offset the impacts on the historic environment by better revealing the significance of the Heritage Asset to the Public in accordance with Policy LP 25 of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan and paragraphs 192 and 200 of the NPPF, which will also promote the county’s aviation heritage in accordance with Policy LP7 of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan.
11. The solar panels shall be removed from the site on or before the 26th July 2061. Following the removal of the solar panels, the site shall be reinstated to Its former state prior to any works commencing.
Reason: In the interests of visual amenity of the surrounding area to accord with the National Planning Policy Framework, local policies LP17, LP19 and LP55 of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan 2012-2036.