Shropshire Star

Barristers lock horns over planning committee being 'misled' in Telford solar farm site row

Barristers have again locked horns at a planning inquiry into whether a giant solar farm should be built close to a Shropshire beauty spot.

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Fields off Limekiln Lane, Wellington, Telford, next to the M54, where Steeraway solar farm is proposed to be built..

This time they clashed over whether Telford & Wrekin Council's planning committee had been misled over how they should interpret Government planning policy on solar farms.

The committee's decision last year was appealed by the developer RE Projects Development (REPD) Limited & Steeraway Solar and the inquiry was arranged to allow a Government planning inspector to decide who is right.

The developers' barrister, David Hardy, a partner at international law firm CMS, put it to council principal planner Katy Craddock that a report to the council's elected decision-makers could have "misled" them.

He told the public inquiry that the Government's advice to councils is to approve solar farms if they can be made acceptable. He said the committee had been told that the plan had to cross a bar of having no adverse harm, which was wrong.

Mr Hardy added that even in terms of the council's own policy it was to "address adverse impacts" which he said is "not a test of having no adverse harm."

Katy Craddock said she "partly agreed" with many of the points Mr Hardy was making and added that members of the committee would take other issues into account.

Estelle Dehon KC, representing Telford & Wrekin Council, took the opportunity to re-examine Ms Craddock, who has 20 years of experience in the private and public sectors.

Ms Dehon asked Ms Craddock: "Was the committee misled on policy?" Ms Craddock replied: "No. It was judged on significant adverse impacts."

Mr Hardy challenged his learned friend on her line of questioning, saying it was "not appropriate". He claimed Ms Dehon was "trying to trample over" his questioning.

But Ms Dehon persisted, asking Ms Craddock whether the "misleading" part of the report had a big impact on the decision.

"Not when you read the report as a whole," she said. "It was only a part of it appropriate to policy."

Mr Hardy said: "It is an inappropriate use of re-examination. My questions were clear and transparent."

But Ms Dehon insisted: "It was entirely appropriate." And she went on to suggest that Mr Hardy's line of questioning was itself inappropriate.

"The next step in the questions was never put to the witness in terms of the committee report. The witness needed more help to explain."

It also emerged that Telford & Wrekin Council has launched a bid to recover its legal costs from the appellant.

Mr Hardy said this was because the council claimed that the developer's approach to a landscape study was "unreasonable".

He claimed this was made on a "false basis" but Ms Dehon intervened, saying this was not a line of questioning for Ms Craddock.

"Privileged discussions are not the subject of cross-examination."