Shropshire Star

Council seeks 'urgent' legal advice over Shropshire beauty spot solar farm decision

A council is taking urgent legal advice after a government minister overruled them an a planning inspector to grant permission to a giant solar farm near The Wrekin.

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Aerial pics over the solar farm at Wheat Leasows, Telford

The leader of Telford & Wrekin Council has expressed his disappointment in the decision on the New Works Lane solar farm planning application and is concerned that it may have an impact on other decisions set to be made.

A three-day planning inquiry on the Steeraway solar farm project closed last Friday and the appellant and the council have been given until April 2 to get their statements in to the planning inspectorate.

Councillor Shaun Davies, leader of Telford & Wrekin Council said: “We are now taking urgent legal advice on what we can do to challenge the government's decision – a decision which completely fails to respect our communities, the planning committee, or the planning inspector. We urge the Secretary of State to look at the decision of in person."

He added that the council is "bitterly disappointed" that a junior minister has granted planning permission for the New Works Lane solar farm.

"This decision goes against the views of our communities, our planning officers, the planning committee and the government's own planning inspector," he said.

“In his letter, the minister recognised that the proposal will harm the local landscape and that the site is clearly valued by local residents, yet he has still deemed the site suitable for development, even though he has never visited the site or heard first-hand all the evidence put forward at the planning committee or the inquiry."

The minister said that although there are harms from the project, he believes those are outweighed by the energy produced.

The council has supported many solar projects over the years and has one of its own.

Councillor Davies said: "As a council, we know the vital importance of renewable energy. We are one of only a few councils to have our own solar farm and we have granted a range of others throughout the borough, but these developments need to be made in the right places."

Although Councillor Davies did not specifically mention the pending decision on Steeraway solar farm he added that the New Works Lane decision could have an impact on the next door application.

He said: "There are other applications for solar farms that are being considered both within the borough and in other areas of the country and we are concerned about how this decision may impact upon decision-makers considering such applications in the future."

Campaigner Jocelyn Lewis, of the Stop Steeraway and New Works Industrial Solar 'Farms' group, said she and others are "incredibly disappointed" with the decision.

"Once I had a chance to read through the decision letter and inspector's report I was incredibly disappointed that despite agreeing with the inspector on many issues the minister had ignored it and overruled local democracy and the local plan," she said.

She supports Telford & Wrekin Council's decision to seek legal advice.

"We are now in the hands of the borough council," she said.

And on the issue of what happens to the application for a solar farm at neighbouring Steeraway Farm she said at the moment that is just not known.

"It's a bit up in the air. We never expected the New Works Lane decision to be overruled, and we don't know if Steeraway will be called in."

Also disappointed was Bill Kerswell, from Picklescott, who objected to a minister overruling the council.

"We can forget about planning," he said. "Why have a council, why have a planning department. We can forget about planning and just put solar farms up anywhere.

"The whole thing is a rubbish. We should re-open the coal mines, rebuild the power station at Ironbridge and use the carbon dioxide in greenhouses.

"We have got over 400 years of coal reserves just sitting in the ground, or exporting to Germany."