Below is Bramley Parish Council’s response to the recent amendments to the planning application for a solar farm by Minchens Lane. This can also be viewed along with the amendments and other comments on the Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council planning portal here.
20/03403/FUL – Site at Minchens Lane Bramley – AMENDED
Bramley Parish Council sees very little in these revised proposals to cause it to change its robust objections to this proposed scheme. Bramley Parish Council therefore requests that its original objections still be considered.
Bramley PC is disappointed that the time available to consider these revisions is somewhat rushed especially as it has fallen over the Christmas holiday period. It has been noted that the document entitled “OFFICER REPORT – PDF VERSION” dated 22 Dec contains no usable information. This makes further comment difficult as we have no idea which parts of the proposals are deemed contentious by the planning officers.
It is rather disappointing that the various updated maps have been produced at differing scales and coverage relative to the originals which makes comparison of content difficult for the layman.
In a response from the National Grid dated 17 February 2021 is the statement:
“Statutory electrical safety clearances must be maintained at all times. National Grid recommends that no permanent structures are built directly beneath our overhead lines.” This seems to be completely ignored in fields 2 and 6.
To refresh, our objections concern the following policies:-
- EM1, EM7, EM4, EM5, EM8 of the Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council Local Plan
- T1, RE1, T2, RE3, D1 of the Bramley Neighbourhood Plan (NP)
Perusing the revised documents dated from 29th September 2021 we wish to make the following observations.
- Construction traffic management plan 29th September 2021
This makes no mention of the access onto Bramley Road which appears on some of the recent drawings, specifically the landscape and ecology enhancement plan. Traffic management on the junction of The Street and Minchens lane will be somewhat difficult. The Street has a traffic count of 4,400 vehicles per day and Minchens Lane a count of 1600 vehicles per day. The section of Minchens Lane up to the site entrance serves a Nursery School, Surgery, and the village’s main community green space so is very busy at all times. The end of the “delivery window” of 16:00 includes the very busy school run period which starts at about 14:45. Any wheel washing will need to be robustly enforced as Bramley clay is particularly sticky, and any S278 conditions should be policed more effectively than those imposed on the recent St James Park development.
- Arboricultural impact assessment Oct 2021 Revision
This is a verbose way of saying that this site is well supplied with fine specimen trees, and extreme care will be needed in the construction/de-commissioning phases.
- R009 Landscape and Ecological Management Plan
- In the site description it states “the route of the Reading to Basingstoke railway line which is raised on an embankment as it passes the east of the Site.” This is incorrect as the railway line is in a cutting which suggests the authors have not visited the site.
- No mention is made of the red kites and buzzards which are regularly seen above these fields. How will the panels affect their feeding habits? Also no mention of the roaming herd of deer which inhabit the area which will be impacted by the fencing. How will fauna displaced by the construction be encouraged to return? Once disturbed, many species are unlikely to return for a long time, no matter how appropriate the environment.
- There is already a forest school and the Frith Wood is accessible to all via the PROW which is endangered by these proposals.
- Bramley PC would like a detailed explanation of the “33.39% habitat and 24.88% hedgerow” biodiversity net gain. Net gain of what exactly, over what timescales and what specific parts of the site? These numbers are simultaneously impossibly precise, and lack even the vaguest definition to determine their meaning.
- The following statement is telling “Existing hedgerows, which includes large hedgerow trees, will be retained and manged (sic) via a rotational cutting regime.” The typo “manged” could be interpreted as “mangled” which is appropriate for the appalling damage caused by “rotational cutting regimes” (mechanical flails). These ruin the structure and appearance of hedgerows, and are devastatingly disturbing for resident fauna.
- There are many laudable aims in this document. However, Bramley PC is sceptical that any of these will be achieved, or that those requiring sensitive maintenance in the long term will receive it. While the offer of substantial tree planting to provide screening is useful, this will take some years to become effective and will require the saplings to receive considerable care if they are to flourish. In addition, the use of tree and fence screening, while it may hide the installation, will also block existing views.
- There is no plan to fund all the work to ensure that the environmental maintenance described is carried out. Will the Parish and Borough Councils have oversight of this maintenance? This document could be used to construct a detailed contract and schedule of works, to be carried out by an external contractor with funded local government oversight.
- It is generally the case that new planting by developers is left unmaintained and in many cases dies within a couple of years as a result. The promises made in this document are far more comprehensive in scope, detail, and timescale than normal, and as there is so much work involved, the chance of it being done to standard is even lower than normal.
To sum up Bramley Parish Council object on the following grounds:
- The loss of good quality agricultural land which is contrary to national policy. None of this farmland is grade 4 (poor quality) or grade 5 (very poor quality).
- Filling such an enormous area with solar panels and high security fencing. The solar farm will dominate the area and change the character of this open countryside instead turning it into an industrial landscape.
- Close the gap between Bramley and Silchester Villages. It is important our villages remain separate and retain their own identities. The solar farm will effectively join them up.
- Destroy the Silchester Trail and Brenda Parker Way. The Silchester Trail and Brenda Parker Way are well loved and used throughout the year. The high security 6.5ft mesh fencing, CCTV, 11ft high transformers, battery containers that look like shipping containers are eyesores and will blight the public pathways.
- Impact on the setting of the Pound Conservation Area. The conservation area is very small and will be dominated by a sea of solar panels to the south, particularly during the winter where the sparsely leafed trees and hedges offer little cover. The revised siting of the panels will not overcome this harm.
- Impact on setting of our listed buildings. There are numerous cherished listed buildings within close proximity to the Solar Farm, many of which were originally part of the Stratfield Saye estate and date back not only to the original Duke of Wellington (1815), but also way back to William Pitt (1559-1636). Many will be severely impacted by the close proximity of a sea of solar panels.
- Impact on the setting of nearby housing. There are numerous family homes that will still overlook hundreds of solar panels. Whilst efforts have been made to move some of the panels away, too many homes will still be affected.
- Increased risk of flooding. There is a long history of flooding around these fields. Any increase in the risk of flooding is unacceptable.
- Damage to our Cultural Heritage. The solar panels will cover part of a rich archaeological heritage which will be lost for further investigation.
- Risk of accidents along Minchens Lane. The road is very narrow and some parts are unable to take two way traffic. Notwithstanding the use of banksmen and traffic marshals Bramley PC still considers that they will be unable to control such a long stretch of road along Minchens Lane from The Street where it is crossed by children and frail elderly adults on a regular basis to access the Doctors Surgery.
- Insufficient public benefits/mitigation to over the harm caused. The tokenistic offer of a small nature reserve and “potential forest school area” does not do not outweigh the serious harm that will be caused to so many local residents. It should be noted again that these facilities already exist in the Frith wood.
- Loss land for deer, red kites and other wildlife. No mention is made of the fact these vast open fields are used by herds of deer. Nor is there any mention of the use of these fields by Red Kites which are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
- Risk of the farm land not being reinstated. The reinstatement of the land will be a costly exercise and at enormous risk should the company go bankrupt. It is imperative a bond is secured to ensure the land is reinstated.
Whilst Bramley Parish Council is supportive of renewable energy sources it believes that this project is in the wrong place, sitting as it does between two villages in open countryside. The argument that it must be situated near a substation is incorrect as many solar farms are considerable distances from such infrastructure. Government policy steers these developments towards brownfield sites and certainly away from prime agricultural land. Bramley Parish Council urges the Borough Council to read this and Bramley Parish Council’s previous objection and refuse planning permission.