The decision taken yesterday by Shepway District Council’s Planning Committee, to grant planning permission for a 46-hectare solar farm at Sycamore Farm, Old Romney, could have far reaching consequences for farming and food security in the UK. While clean renewable energy is an important priority for all of us, the use of highest quality agricultural land for this sort of non-agricultural development may set a precedent that effectively promotes “industrialisation of the countryside”.
Had this been a proposal for a power station using fossil fuels, permission would have certainly been refused. But while the proposed development relates to renewable energy, it appears this ‘trumps’ any other use of the land, even very productive food production. Wind farms are a similar case, although thankfully some Local Authorities are recognising that these do have a detrimental effect on communities, the countryside and existing uses of the land, and are acting accordingly.
Perhaps the biggest issue that appears to have been overlooked is that the solar farm does not necessarily have to be constructed at this location: there are a multitude of other possible sites, some of them being ‘brownfield land’, that could have been used instead of this best and most versatile grade 1 farmland.
We call on politicians and planners alike to recognise the importance of clear policies to protect the farmland which is so important to the country’s economy and food security.