Now that the sun has been shining of a bit of late, I think it’s a good time to talk about the controversial issue of solar farms.
Believe it or not, here in Hampshire we’re actually considered a ‘sun trap’ and for this reason our area is being peppered with large installations of these farms. These are similar to the solar panels you will find on houses but on a considerably larger scale. They are often located in the countryside and are semi-permanent structures designed to generate large quantities of electricity from the sun.
Opinion on solar farms is divided. Most people, including me, are broadly In favour of these renewable sources of energy that are good for the environment. There are, however, a minority who consider them a blight on the landscape and completely out of place in the countryside. I do understand this argument and I agree that councils should ensure that careful consideration of an application should be undertaken before permission is given.
Developing renewable energy is an important part of our future energy strategy but this does not mean we should be blind to the potential downsides.
Aside from the obvious negatives of taking up valuable agricultural land and the visual impact of a site, there is also the question of their status in planning law.
I have been contacted by constituents and organisations who are worried that these semi-permanent solar arrays will act as a precedent to allow future housing developments in the countryside and this is a big concern for many people.
But I have been reassured by the planning minister this is not the case. Indeed the Government has said that the focus for locations of solar farms should be on buildings and existing brownfield sites, rather than prime agricultural land or areas of outstanding natural beauty.
The Government is also issuing new planning guidance to local councils which would make clear that the desire for renewable energy should not automatically override environmental protections or the planning concerns of local communities. I very much welcome these additional protections.
Having also consulted with the planning departments of several local councils I am informed that the ‘temporary’ status of these solar farms would not allow them to be used to set a precedent for future housing development or to change greenfield sites into more easily developable brownfield.
By ensuring that solar farms are carefully planned in suitable locations, we can exploit our increasingly sunny climate and provide a source of energy which is both secure and environmentally sound while creating jobs and that has to be good news for Hampshire.
You can contact George by email on firstname.lastname@example.org and telephone on 0207 219 7109 or 01962 734 076. George also holds a monthly surgery in Waterlooville Precinct on Saturdays. For the next date contact his office to book an appointment. You can also write at:
George Hollingbery MP
House of Commons