Organic dairy farm spared after Green Belt solar farm plans are thrown out
An organic dairy farm threatened with closure by a solar farm plan for its land has been granted a reprieve after the scheme was refused.
Chatham’s Organic Dairy, based at Brockton Grange farm in Kemberton, said the business would no longer be viable if the neighbouring fields it leases for its herd were taken away.
The land, which lies in the West Midlands Green Belt, was earmarked for a 22 megawatt (MW) array of panels, which Vattenfall, the company behind the proposals, claimed would power 6,000 homes a year.
Planning officers had said the application should be approved, but members of Shropshire Council’s southern planning committee went against this recommendation to unanimously reject the scheme.
The committee heard that 133 objections had been received, including those from Kemberton Parish Council and Worfield ward councillor Richard Marshall.
Allan Chatham from the dairy farm spoke at the meeting to stress the “devastating” impact the scheme would have on his family business.
Mr Chatham said his parents had bought Brockton Grange in 1944 and it is now run by his son.
The farm achieved organic status in 2000 and has been leasing the fields earmarked for the solar farm since 2008. It currently produces 250,000 litres of organic milk per year.
In 2018 it opened an on-site farm shop, and hit the headlines by launching Shropshire’s first organic milk vending machine.
Mr Chatham said: “Our farm in its current form will be financially unsustainable without this land, and it will impact the local economy with the loss of some jobs.
“If you approve this application it will put our whole organic farm business in jeopardy because this land forms a vital part of it.”
Councillor Marshall also addressed the committee to urge refusal of the application.
He said approving the application, leading to the “destruction” of the organic dairy business, would go against council policies on sustainable economic growth.
Councillor Marshall said the solar company had failed to demonstrate the “very special circumstances” required to justify developing Green Belt land, and should instead look at a brownfield site on the nearby Halesfield industrial estate.
He added: “Committee, I believe companies should be free to generate profits but never should it be profit at any cost.
“I would strongly urge you to refuse this application, with the damage that it will cause to the local economy, the erosion of the Green Belt and the loss of even more agricultural land.
“Nor does this application demonstrate very special circumstances, unless you believe maximising an energy companies’ profits is special circumstance.”
Solicitor Fred Quartermain from Thrings, representing Kemberton Parish Council, told the committee the application was a “long way” from reaching the high threshold for developing the Green Belt.
He added: “It’s the wrong development in the wrong place.”
However Nick Williams, agent to the applicant, said the proposed site was the only suitable land within a reasonable distance of the substation on the industrial estate.
He said the scheme would lead to biodiversity “net gain” and would continue to be used for agriculture, through sheep grazing, for the 40-year life of the solar farm.
Councillor Tony Parsons proposed refusal of the application, saying: “If this had been somewhere else within the county I would have supported it, but I think it is in breach of the Green Belt policy.
“I believe this is an inappropriate development in the Green Belt and I don’t believe the circumstances are special enough to justify this going ahead.”
Councillor Ed Potter said he could not support the loss of organic farming land which is currently in use and producing a “significant amount” of milk.
Members also voiced concerns about “urban sprawl”, with the land currently providing a green buffer between Telford and Kemberton, and the impact on the landscape and nearby listed buildings.
The committee unanimously voted to refuse planning permission.