Aller Solar Industrial Site – have your say
Feelings are not surprisingly, running high on the subject of the proposed Aller Court Solar industrial site. This 65 acre site of 65,000 panels will be one of the biggest in Somerset. Whilst to date no planning application has been submitted and hence the Parish Council will not, at this stage be asked to give an opinion on the site, residents from the area can still make their views known.
The next Aller Parish Council meeting at 7.30pm on Monday 15th September at Aller Village Hall but David Mayor, chair of Aller Parish Council, is concerned not just that everyone should get a say, but that the process should also be as even-handed as possible. Those who wish to lobby the council should do so at the point when it is most effective. Many of you will be aware that no planning application has been submitted. If and when that happens, Aller PC will be consulted and will discuss the proposal before commenting. Any discussions will take place at a Parish Council Meeting which will be held in public.
David told us “I have been approached by organisations and individuals who would like to address the PC at our September meeting to make arguments for and against the proposed development in the hope that we will come to a decision to either support or object to the proposed development before an application is submitted. Whatever your position on any development I am sure you would agree that is not a helpful way to proceed. My response, in the spirit of even-handedness, has been the same to each approach that has been made. The PC meeting is held in public, it is not a public meeting. In the absence of a planning application the proposed development will not be discussed by Aller Parish Council and we do not intend to invite groups or individuals to present their views to the council on a speculative basis.”
People are however welcome to make their views known to the PC via the clerk. They are welcome to do that, and all the Parish Councillors who are themselves Aller residents and can be contacted by their neighbours. However, David Mayor reminds those wishing to express a view on the solar farm that “views will carry more weight if they are made with knowledge of an application and can address aspects of it. I would suggest that the best way to comment is to write to or email the planning authority using the opportunity to comment given on the SSDC planning website. I am happy to make the commitment that any comments made using that route will be considered by the PC, they will also reach the authority that actually makes the decision.”
This is of course a difficult moment. Solar sites do tend out to bring extremes of opinion and there is a difficult balancing act to be done in order to make sure each one is given a fair hearing. David stressed to us that “in suggesting that the next available opportunity for discussion may not be the best one I am not trying to stifle debate, rather ensure that when it happens it is informed and that the Parish Council does the best job that it can. Whilst the Solar Park Planning Application is unlikely to be on the agenda, it is customary for residents of the Parish to have the opportunity to speak prior to meetings and they will have that opportunity as usual.”
In the meantime do bear in mind that ultimately South Somerset District Council will be responsible for the decision. SSDC do have some broad criteria against which they assess solar industrial sites of this nature. What they do not have, in their current policy portfolio or even in the Local Plan, is any criteria discussing the density of solar farms across the landscape. This is a major flaw in the planning process. So many solar sites are being discussed at the moment that the entire county could be covered in panels, and there is nothing in the planning rules that could stop that.
The policy of addressing each application in isolation and without considering neighbouring applications or the density of coverage of the countryside is, in our opinion, both dangerous and foolish.