Plans by Northumberland Estates to build a giant solar energy farm are narrowly approved
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The site, run by property developer Northumberland Estates, will generate 28 megawatts of electricity and potentially power up to 9,000 homes a year.
And according to the developer, the farm would also have a 40-year lifespan.
But both councillors and neighbours raised concerns about a development of this scale, located on land east of Backworth Lane, Backworth, in a green belt and wildlife corridor.
Whitley Bay councillor and planning committee member John O’Shea said: “This is a commendable application which gives a significant amount of green energy to the locality but, and it’s a big but, unfortunately for me, the proposal is in the green belt. I have not heard any significant exceptions put forward which would allow us to agree with this application.
“I am also concerned it will have a negative impact on the surrounding occupiers, I believe it will have a negative impact on the character and appearance of the surrounding area. I also note a loss of agricultural land.
“On balance, whilst this is a commendable application, on the other hand, I don’t think it should be built on the green belt.”
Resident Max Seed raised his objections to the planning committee in person. Mr Seed claimed the site would ruin the character of the area, disrupt locals and invade the green belt.
Mr Seed said: “Long-term investment in our energy infrastructure is important, but the place of the development is vital. It must be appropriately placed and not need to sacrifice other green initiatives like the green belt. This was the view of Telford and Wrekin Council when they refused a solar farm and they said it would cause significant harm to the character of the area and impact the enjoyment of the area.”
Telford and Wrekin Council remain in a dispute with the Government regarding the development of that solar farm.
Mr Seed continued: “In the conservation area of Backworth where we live we are not allowed washing lines or even solar panels due to their visual effects.”
A representative of Northumberland Estates defended the proposals, citing the environmental and ecological benefits of the plans. They claimed the solar farm would contribute to national and regional ambitions to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
They added it would also help people in the ongoing cost of living crisis and the site would be shielded by foliage, reducing its impact on the character of the area.
Councillors were told that once the lifespan of the project has reached its limit of 40 years, the land would be returned for agricultural use. In addition, all statutory consultees were satisfied and raised no objections.
Ultimately, the proposal was approved by a small majority of four votes in favour to three against.