This SPS round up includes: an update on a variety of solar farm applications around the county; and Babergh Mid Suffolk’s plans to speed up energy saving works to listed buildings.
Much of our work over the last two months has focused on the impact of renewable energy proposals on the county.
A seemingly endless number of commercially scaled solar proposals from all around the county continue to be brought to our attention.
We are particularly concerned that we are responding to more and more applications which affect Valued Landscapes. These designations should benefit from enhanced protection of their special qualities. Moreover, schemes are often on highly graded agricultural land.
SPS consistently calls for such developments to be located on previously developed and, and where greenfield sites are justified, the quality of agricultural land should be of grade 3b or lower. In the last few weeks:
SPS makes strong objections to solar schemes in Valued Landscapes:
An application at Bentley is for a 40MW solar farm with substation at Grove Farm and Land East of the railway line. The site is within the Coast and Heaths National Landscape Additional Project Area which is defined in the new Babergh Mid Suffolk Joint Local Plan as a Valued Landscape. Therefore, in planning policy terms it is important to recognise and seek to protect the special qualities of tranquility and landscape character.
The site is in an isolated location within the wider setting of the medieval parish church.
The site for the Wissett solar farm application has been identified in the Waveney Local Plan 2019 as being a Valued Landscape which is particularly sensitive to change.
The site is a deeply rural, settled and tranquil ancient landscape, distinctive by virtue of its hedgerows, veteran trees and listed buildings. Visibility is high as a result of intermittent tree cover, with some long views across Gray’s Lane.
The area has a strongly unified landscape pattern with a sense of tranquility which will be fundamentally harmed by these proposals.
The site for a solar farm application at Boxted is within the Project Area of the Dedham Vale National Landscape and Stour Valley which is also identified as a Valued Landscape. Immediately adjacent are several blocks of mature woodland, including areas of Ancient Woodland.
The proposals will harm the visual qualities of this sensitive landscape and the significance of nearby designated heritage assets.
Moreover, due to the rolling topography and the valley side location, these impacts are not capable of successful mitigation.
SPS makes further comments on Sunnica Solar Energy scheme:
A decision from the Secretary of State on the Sunnica solar energy scheme which would cover a total of 2800 acres in West Suffolk/ East Cambridgeshire, was expected in December, having been delayed since September. However, once again the decision has been delayed, this time until March 2024.
SPS has consistently opposed this development, believing that such an outsized industrialisation across two counties is detrimental to both communities and the landscape. It will also take good quality agricultural land out of food production.
The Secretary of State issued a further set of questions to Sunnica in December. SPS, along with other interested parties, had an opportunity to respond to Sunnica’s answers. We reiterated that site selection process was flawed the scheme would result in unacceptable landscape and visual impacts particularly from the Limekiln Gallops at Newmarket.
Two commercial solar farm application decisions:
EDF’s 49.9MW commercial solar scheme at Bramford was approved in December. SPS had raised strong objections to the proposals due to the visual, heritage and landscape impacts and loss of good quality agricultural land.
We also raised concerns regarding the cumulative impact with two further proposed solar schemes in the vicinity. We argued that the sense of place of an area extending more than 4km east to west will be fundamentally affected for those using the lanes and footpaths around Bramford, Flowton and Little Blakenham.
More positively, SPS was pleased that the application for a similar scaled solar farm at Badley was refused in December due to concerns over the impact on nearby heritage.
SPS had previously made a number of strong objections to this scheme due to the harm that would be caused to the Badley Conservation Area. This contains a cluster of listed buildings, including grade I listed St Mary’s Church and grade II* Badley Hall which, to a large degree, derive their significance from their isolated, agricultural setting, designed landscaped approach and areas of ancient woodland.
Local Listed Building Consent Orders – making our listed buildings ready for the future?
SPS was consulted by Babergh and Mid Suffolk Councils’ for our views on their consultation to create a Local Listed Building Consent Order (LLBCO).
Currently, property owners must apply for listed building consent to make certain changes to their buildings. The councils are exploring whether they could become the first rural council to introduce an LLBCO to streamline the process for approving energy efficiency improvements.
SPS recognises the importance of responding positively to the climate emergency and the urgent need to improve the energy efficiency of Suffolk’s historic building stock. However, the enormous number and variety of listed buildings in the district does not naturally lend itself to this prescribed method of control, so we think it would be preferable to identify groups of similar buildings to which a set of conditions could be applied.
It could begin with a single focus (e.g. windows) and if it is proved to be viable it can be extended to include other type of energy saving works. Our full response to this consultation can be read here.
Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects:
SPS has responded to two energy transmission NSIP applications:
SPS responded to the statutory consultation on the Sealink 2GW High Voltage Direct Current undersea electricity link between Suffolk and Kent.
We consider that the project will result in major environmental harm to the Suffolk Coast and Heaths National Landscape, a protected landscape, contrary to the National Policy Statement EN1 which affords designated landscapes the highest status of protection.
Bramford to Twinstead
The Examination into National Grid’s proposals to upgrade the electricity transmission pylon lines between Bramford and Twinstead is ongoing.
In connection with this, the Examiner issued a number of questions to interested parties. SPS was asked for its views regarding avoidable heritage harm around Hintlesham Hall.
Suffolk Heritage Champion Awards
Nominations for our Suffolk Heritage Champion Awards has now closed.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to put forward their heritage champion.
We received a fantastic range of entries and will announce the details of those receiving an award in April