This month’s bulletin includes the release of our Greening the Great Grid Upgrade report; a Ministerial statement on commercial solar schemes and a parish council’s battle to protect its Valued Landscape. We also report on solar developments within the county and SPS’s efforts to protect our unlisted heritage.

National Grid proposals

Greening the Great Grid Upgrade

Early this month we released our report calling for improvements to National Grid’s plans for upgrading the energy transmission network. Growing concerns about a lack of well thought through policies and joined up thinking around the Great Grid Upgrade (GGU) led SPS (along with Essex and Norfolk branches of the CPRE, the countryside charity) to commission the Greening the Great Grid Upgrade report.

The report is a detailed critique of the GGU’s strengths and weaknesses and how it might be improved to reduce the impacts on the countryside and ensure that impacted communities are properly heard.

It concludes that National Grid is hurrying ahead too fast, risking leaving a legacy of projects that may be surplus to energy requirements, do not integrate with each other, fail to maximise their full environmental benefits and marginalise affected communities.

Norwich to Tilbury: Meanwhile the ongoing statutory consultation into National Grid’s proposed new 180km line of pylons from Norwich through Suffolk to Tilbury in Essex has been extended. The consultation was due to close on Tuesday June 18th but we understand that due to the general election, this date has been moved into July.

Commercial solar schemes

Ministerial statement on solar

Solar power is a key part of the government’s strategy for energy security, net zero and clean growth as reinforced in the national policy statement on renewable energy (EN-3) which was released in January.

However this month Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho expressed concern that best and most versatile agricultural land is being used for large solar energy schemes, and has urged developers to avoid the use of these sites “where possible”.

She also acknowledged that “solar projects can affect local environments which may lead to unacceptable impacts for some local communities”.

Elsewhere, she called on inspectors to consider the cumulative impacts of solar schemes, stating that: “we are increasingly seeing geographical clustering of proposed solar developments in some rural areas… it is important to consider not just the impacts of individual proposals, but whether there are cumulative impacts where several proposals come forward in the same locality.”

Suffolk solar update

SPS has long been calling for cumulative impacts, loss of food growing land and community impacts to be taken into account in our representations on the increasing number of solar schemes coming forward.

We called for the cumulative impacts of a number of applications brought forward around the Bramford substation area to be considered; unfortunately all schemes have now been consented. 

We are also disappointed that an application for 37 hectares of commercial solar at Park Farm, Loudham Hall Road, Pettistree was approved by East Suffolk Council on 28 May despite strong local objection, including from SPS. The decision was finely balanced with 3 councillors voting against, 3 for and the casting vote from the chairman, Cllr Mark Packard who voted in favour. The application is for nearly 40,000 panels and the duration of the consent is for 40 years.

A 750 acre solar scheme is expected to come forward around Mendlesham, Wickham Skeith and Thwaite and we also understand that National Grid has offered two connections for commercial solar farms around the proposed substation site at Friston.

Meanwhile the decision on 2800 acres of food growing agricultural land at the Sunnica site is expected next month. We anticipate however that this may well incur further delay until after the general election result.

Walberswick – replacement dwelling

SPS has written to object to plans to demolish a modest single storey house and replace with a very large property. The proposed new property will be two storey, closer to the boundary with The Common and with balconies overlooking both the National Landscape and the neighbouring property.

Located in Church Field on the northern edge of the village, this in an area which has well screened spacious plots arranged around an informal pattern of unmade lanes which link with the footpath network. The area is immediately adjacent to the Walberswick Conservation Area and is within the Suffolk and Essex Coast & Heaths National Landscape.  It has a distinctive character and is a tranquil area which has a strong sense of place, and we feel it is highly sensitive to this inappropriate development.

West Row – demolition of historic building

SPS has written to object to the proposed demolition of 123 Friday Street.  This building is one of few remaining historic buildings situated in Friday Street, part of the historic core of West Row.  The application does not include a heritage assessment and, consequently, the significance of the building cannot be understood. 

SPS considers that the building may meet the criteria for a non-designated heritage asset and therefore objects to its loss which would be contrary to national and local policy. 

Image: West Row Parish Council

Parish Council seeks to challenge concrete batching plant in the High Court

In September 2023 SPS objected to an application for extraction, processing and sale of sand and gravel, processing of inert waste materials and concrete batching at Brockley Wood off A12 at Belstead.

We  raised significant concerns about the likelihood of severe environmental impacts as the site is within the Suffolk and Essex Coast and Heaths National Landscape (AONB) Project Area which is defined as a Valued Landscape. The site is also within 300m of Bentley Old Hall, a grade II* hall house which has retained its largely unaltered, remote and rural setting which includes large blocks of ancient woodland and arable landscape.

However, the application was approved by Suffolk County Council in April 2024. Bentley Parish Council and the owner of Bentley Old Hall have now sought permission to challenge the decision in the courts on four grounds including: long-lasting harm to a recognised Valued Landscape, to the setting of a Grade II* Listed Building, to the inhabitants of the parish of Bentley and those who use its ancient lanes and to the residents of the nearest residential properties who will have to live alongside this development for at least 17 years. The Claimants are waiting to hear whether they are given permission to take the matter to a full hearing and we wish them every success in their challenge.

SPS visit to Staverton:

Earlier this month, SPS Members and guests were treated to a fascinating walk and talk around Staverton forest. We were led by Gary Battell, former Suffolk County Council tree advisor. This followed a buffet lunch at the Shepherd’s Cottage on the Wantisden Valley estate.

We were blessed with a rare sunny afternoon which showed the woodland with its carpet of bluebells in its splendid glory.

More SPS Events this summer:

SPS annual summer garden party and Annual General Meeting

Little Hall, Market Place, Lavenham, CO10 9QZ

Friday 14 June 2024

6.30 pm (registration from 6 pm)

Our annual garden party will take place in the gardens at Little Hall in Lavenham.

All Members are welcome to join us for a summer’s evening in one of Suffolk’s loveliest medieval walled gardens.

This is a free event but donations are encouraged.

For catering purposes, please book your place:

An evening with renowned architectural historian Jeremy Musson to celebrate the SPS Heritage Champion Awards

Courtyard, Heveningham Hall, IP19 0PN

Thursday 18 July. 6 pm – 8 pm. £30 per person (£20 for SPS Members)

Our speaker for the evening is renowned architectural historian, Jeremy Musson – a regular contributor to Country Life and other journals, as well as a former National Trust curator. He is author and co-editor of numerous books on historic houses and wrote and presented the BBC TV series A Curious House Guest. 

Champagne and canapes accompanied by Fishers Gin from Aldeburgh.

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