Hatton residents appeal to Defra minister

Residents of a Horncastle-area village have appealed to government ministers to stop a solar farm being built on their village’s farm land.

The campaign group with Coun William Gray (third left) and Sir Edward Leigh (fourth right) at the site of the proposed solar farm.
The campaign group with Coun William Gray (third left) and Sir Edward Leigh (fourth right) at the site of the proposed solar farm.

A planning application for a ground mounted 49.9MW solar farm on land adjacent to Sotby Woods on Sturton Road, Hatton was submitted to East Lindsey District Council by renewable energy developer Push and consultants Sustainable Planning Design (SPD) Studio, will see solar panels installed on two fields (73.7 ha or 187 acres) of grade 2 and 3 agricultural land, as well as a 2m high fence, CCTV towers and other infrastructure associated with solar panels erected on the agricultural land in the hamlet.

Protesters living in the villages have said that a report by the developers has stated that although the land proposed to be used is categorised as Best and Most Versatile (BMV), as defined by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the report “clearly illustrated how farming of agricultural land over time lowers the land grading” and that the site is mapped as Grade 2 and Grade 3 land, but has predominantly dropped a grade to 3a and 3b land and that “the benefits of the scheme should be considered on the planning balance of this scheme”.

“They are basically claiming that any and all land over time can not be farmed as the value of said land drops,” Ruchira Yarsley, spokesman for the group said.

Jenny Gough, a resident of Hatton, has written an impassioned response to Ranil Jayawardena MP, Secretary of State for Defra, urging him to support their appeal.

In her letter, Jenny has explained to Mr Jayawardena that she and many of the residents of Hatton, Great Sturton and Sotby are worried about the scale of a proposed solar installation.

“Our main concern is the cumulative loss of valuable agricultural land in this county,” Jenny sates in her letter, “Not for nothing is Lincolnshire called the breadbasket of England.

“It is also worrying when DEFRA’s own definition of the grade of land can so easily be down-graded as seems to be happening with the Hatton site,” she said.

"The 73.7 ha of land that has been used for many decades to grow cereals and vegetables is suddenly described as not being suitable for this purpose.”

Jenny also states in her letter that this could lead to BMV land being targeted as the DEFRA definitions are not clear and that rooftop solar would be a better alternative, “especially those of the thousands of new homes being build and the 250,000ha of commercial sites”, and pleaded with Mr Jayawardena to “stay firm in your beliefs in our food production system”.

The letter goes on to say that there is much useful roof space on both domestic and Industrial businesses that could house solar panels:

"I understand that flat fields are an easy and cheaper option with greater profits than more complicated installations on roof tops, but surely not at the cost of the loss of thousands of acres of arable land for 40 years.”

Jenny added that the residents of these small hamlets feel that the scale of the solar installation is out of proportion to such small communities, and that they feel that small communitiesare targeted because there are so

few of them and their voices are lost:

"Many of the residents here make a living from B&B and holiday lets, which could well be affected by the presence of such an industrial installation and a perception that it is no longer a rural retreat.

“All of the solar applicates say that they will listen to the local communities but this certainly doesn’t feel like that to many communities across the country who are accused of being “nimbies”.

"We agree with the need to increase solar as part of an integrated green energy initiative – we just question the speed and scale of targeting BMV agricultural land.”

Gainsborough MP Sir Edward Leigh has agreed to support their campaign to have the application refused when it goes before ELDC’s planning committee, which a date has not yet been set.

In a supporting statement on ELDC’s planning portal, a spokesman for SPD Studios said that the proposed development at Hatton “demonstrates the opportunity to significantly improve the existing site by contributing the UK’s renewable energy commitments”, and that it “aligns with East Lindsey District Council’s net zero target by 2040:

“There is a clear need for new electricity generation capacity and flexible energy generation from various sources.

"These are a necessary and vital part of the Government’s Strategy for the decarbonisation of electricity generation and supply security.

"However, that support needs to be balanced against other policies, which seek to protect issues such as heritage assets, valued landscapes and biodiversity interests. This supporting addendum further highlights the key issues being considered and in each case concludes that the proposal does not conflict with policy, either with or without conditions.

In conclusion, there is much policy support for the application. Whilst it does involve the loss of agricultural land for a period of 40 years, this does not equate to grounds for refusal because the benefits of the scheme and the wider policy support outweigh this.”