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Tears and anger at solar farm plans in Amber Valley

Residents battling to stop a Derbyshire solar farm being set up near their homes have shed tears and told of their fears of its potential impact at a public inquiry.

On the first day of the public inquiry into Kronos Solar’s plan for a 185-acre solar farm in fields between Alfreton and Oakerthorpe, local residents were encouraged to give their views.

Julia Williams, who lives close to the site, said she runs a connections company which has been employed by Kronos to assess its solar farm proposals, saying it is a “misconception” that solar schemes do not create jobs.

She said the 50 megawatt proposal is the current average size of solar farm schemes being planned and approved in the UK, saying that much larger schemes are currently in the pipeline, ranging from 80 megawatts up to 300mw.

Ms Williams said the UK needs solar farms to be able to provide for its own energy needs.

Claire Price-Dowd told the inquiry that she moved to a house close to the site “for the open space”.

She said: “Rather than against renewable energy we should be doing the right thing right, not this. Our community, our town, will become that place you drive through on your way to somewhere else.”

Ms Price-Dowd said tourists and visitors would stop coming to Alfreton and the surrounding area as a result of the proposals and said solar panels should be installed on industrial unit rooftops in the borough.

Paul Gibbons, the former owner of South Wingfield Railway Station, told the inquiry: “All these buildings (Alfreton Hall, Wingfield Manor etc) are important, there is no doubt about it, but from a number of these places you can’t see the site. There is an academic case but I don’t honestly feel it means much in practice.

He said until a few years ago “nobody really seemed to be interested in heritage anywhere, certainly not South Wingfield Station”.

Ned Westaway, barrister for Amber Valley Borough Council, said the authority had compulsorily purchased the station from Mr Gibbons in 2018 due to its disrepair and historic importance and claimed Mr Gibbons was “aggrieved” by that.

Laura Brown, who moved to Oakerthorpe, to the west of the site, four years ago, broke into tears when giving her evidence to the inquiry.

Speaking between sobs and tears, Ms Brown said: “We moved to the village to bring up our daughters in a place where you can open up the front door and walk into the countryside.

“The footpaths were particularly important in the pandemic, when we were expecting our second daughter. It made all the difference in difficult times when we couldn’t see relatives.

“It devastates me that this could be ruined. We thrive so much by being in nature and this won’t be possible when walking through miles of fences.

“Being here for 40 years is not a temporary thing.”

She said the rural area was “under threat” and said there would be no direct benefit to the local community, particularly those in homes most affected by the scheme.

Paul Jackson, South Wingfield parish councillor, spoke at the inquiry on behalf of Cllr Valerie Thorpe, an Amber Valley borough councillor who died in September.

He read out Cllr Thorpe’s statement to the borough council from last December’s planning meeting, in which she said the scheme was “during my 24 years on this council I cannot recall a planning application that is more out of keeping with the area”.

Cllr Thorpe’s statement continued: “When I first heard of the scale and location of this proposal I thought it was monstrous.”

She wrote that “green energy cannot come at any cost” and that people living around the site would be “surrounded by solar panels as far as the eyes can see”.

Cllr Thorpe detailed that the plans would be “catastrophic for students and staff at the special school” and that people would overlook the “industrialised” Amber Valley and head straight to the Peak District.

She said the “last green space accessible from Alfreton would become a fenced-in tunnel”.

Liz Scott, a Shirland resident, said her holiday cottage and equestrian businesses would sit on the edge of the proposed solar farm, overlooking what would be scores of solar panels.

She said: “We have spent eight years working to develop businesses and our home and I believe this scheme will have a detrimental impact on the business and on our children’s health and wellbeing.

Ms Scott said the development would deter visitors from what is a “world class destination”, with visitors spending £169 per person, per night and that  the site must be “preserved for future generations”.

She said jobs would be at risk if the scheme is approved, saying “it is essential the visitor economy is nurtured” and the proposal risked ruining what is an “oasis of calm”.

Ms Scott said her equestrian business requires seclusion and peace and quiet, training “highly strung competition horses” who would be affected by noise and “dazzling” glare from the scheme which risked making the fields “unviable”.

She said this would “jeopardise the health and safety of the animals and riders”.

Celina Colquhoun, barrister for developers Kronos, responded that Ms Scott’s “noise fears are not substantiated”.

Martin Harrison, who moved to the area four years ago, said the developer appeared to have a “cavalier” approach, saying the scheme was “inappropriate in scale”.

He said: “I am not a NIMBY (not in my back yard) but it needs to be appropriate.

“We do have pretty scenery that must be protected. In 40 years (when the solar scheme would lapse) quite a lot of us here will no longer be alive.”

South Wingfield resident Chris Handforth told the inquiry that views over the affected fields are “some of the finest in the area”.

He said: “That aspect is a huge benefit for those who love walking and are proud to belong to the area. To have that facility taken away would be dreadful.”

The six-day inquiry, held at the Post Mill Centre in South Normanton, is being overseen by planning inspector Paul Jackson.

It sees Amber Valley Borough Council go up against Kronos Solar, with opposition groups also providing a defence against the plans, including campaign group Save Alfreton Countryside, Alfreton Town Council, South Wingfield Parish Council and charity Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) Derbyshire.

Amber Valley Borough Council rejected the plans last December, feeling that its scale and impact on the landscape were too significant to outweigh its environmental benefits.

The 50 megawatt scheme would be capable of generating enough renewable electricity to power 11,500 homes – three times the number of households in Alfreton.

The inquiry runs from October October 18-21 and November 1-2, after which a decision will be made by Mr Jackson, with an aim to do so by November 25.

Members of the public can attend the inquiry in person, with each session starting from 10am and can also access the hearings online, through a request to the borough council.

Pictured: Several members of the Save Alfreton Countryside on land which could become a large solar farm “This is our last chance to save this land for the next generation”, say passionate campaigners calling for “beautiful” countryside around a Derbyshire town to be protected. Land stretching from Alfeton to Oakerthorpe in Amber Valley has become a focal point for new developments over the past couple of years. This includes current plans under consideration for 53 homes off the A615/Belper Road through Oakerthorpe; a 240-home retirement village off Wingfield Road next to Alfreton Golf Club; and a large solar farm across the fields between Oakerthorpe and Alfreton, north of Wingfield Road. Plans from Waters Homes Ltd for 37 houses were approved in August 2020 for land next to the golf club, also stemming off Wingfield Road, and are now under construction. Campaign group Save Alfreton Countryside aims to see all three of these proposed schemes rejected, declaring an early victory in one case, that of the solar farm.
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