PLANNERS have agreed to visit the proposed site for a huge solar energy development after being told that it has the potential to map the country’s low-carbon future.
Farm owner Christopher Porter wants to install 18 solar panels in a field adjacent to his remote farmhouse at Steel, near Whitley Chapel in Hexhamshire.
The farm stands in Green Belt land and Northumberland county planning officers say the plans should be rejected to protect the area from “inappropriate development”. But the council’s area west planning committee has now put a decision on hold so that members can visit Mire House Farm to see for themselves whether the 19-inch-high panels should get the green light.
Coun Colin Horncastle, who represents the South Tynedale ward which includes Steel, said: “This is a brand new technology and the first I know of in this area.
“We are moving so fast. We are in a modern age now where everybody is told every day by energy companies, Governments and individual organisations that we must do something to preserve the planet and produce green energy.
“This application is the first of many that will be coming. At the moment there is nothing in our local plan that can handle it, but in two years’ time we will have the policies to handle it.”
Proposing a committee visit to Mire House, Coun Horncastle said planners had faced a similar dilemma over wind turbines, which are now accepted. He added: “Let’s not have any Luddite views about this – we are not going to harm anything by going to have a look at the site and learn a bit about technology.”
An original report to the committee omitted the actual size of the proposed solar panels, and Mr Porter said: “I’ve been very concerned about the documents. It was strange that we didn’t know how high the panels were. But they are only about knee-high.”
Mr Porter, a sales director with a Northumberland wind energy company, lets out his land to a local farmer.
He dismissed officers’ reports that the photovoltaic panels, if installed, would give off glare and reflection, saying: “They would have an anti-glare coating and absorb light, not reflect it.
“I cannot put panels on existing buildings. They are facing in the wrong direction – and would be an eyesore. In the field, the panels will hardly be visible and will have a negligible impact.”
He added: “We are in an age of carbon reduction – that’s a fact, and the Government is encouraging it.”
Peter Trevelyan, of Hexhamshire Parish Council, which is backing Mr Porter’s plans, said: “It represents something that we will all have to face more of in the future.”
Hexham county councillor Ingrid Whale said she had seen on a visit to Bavaria how well solar panels blended in to the landscape and it was “very, very obvious” that their Government supported alternative energy.
“I believe we will be going that way as well,” she added.
Last night Mr Porter welcomed the planning committee’s stance and said: “They appear to be taking a practical and pragmatic view – an open view of new technology.
“Ingrid Whale’s view about PV panels is spot-on and I am delighted to have the opportunity to be able to demonstrate to them on the site visit that there is no visual impact and no impact on the openness of the land.”