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Agenda item

Participation of the Public

Any member of the public, who is a registered elector in the District, is eligible to ask one question at this meeting, of the Chair of the Council, any Member of the Executive or the Chair of any Committee, on any matter in relation to which the Council has powers or duties or which affects the District.


Notice, together with a written copy of the question, must be provided to Democratic Services, either by email to [email protected] or by post to:

Democratic Services, West Oxfordshire District Council, Woodgreen, Witney OX28 1NB, and received no later than noon on the seventh working day before the date of the meeting.

A response may be provided at the meeting or within three clear working days of the meeting.


A total of 15 minutes is allowed for questions from members of the public.


Karen Squibb-Williams, Chair of ‘Stop Botley West Campaign, Oxfordshire’, read out the following question, which was responded to by Councillor Andy Graham, Leader of the Council. The question was followed by a supplementary question which the Leader of the Council also responded to:


Q1 In the current stages of proclaimed climate emergency, energy crises and the lemming-like rush to renewables, is this community (Oxfordshire) at risk of being led to believe that the proposal for the UK’s largest ever ground mounted solar park is actually a good thing?, bearing in mind that:-


  1. The so-called informal “public consultation” provided by the Developer (“PVDP”) was notably lacking in any detail, and could not, and did not, help the public to appreciate just what was being planned;
  2. The Developer’s boast that Botley West Solar Farm will provide enough electricity for 330,000 homes (impliedly in Oxfordshire) is utterly misleading, given that any generated electricity, should this proposal go ahead, will be fed directly into the National Grid, and will end up anywhere, possibly even for sale;
  3. The assault on Oxford’s Green Belt is quite unprecedented and seriously damaging to the whole intent and purpose of green belts; this proposal intends to build about 75% of its industrialised landscape on that Green Belt including most of the “middle section”, which is stretching from Bladon and Begbroke to Cassington, and all of the southern section at Cumnor;
  4. Solar energy is proven beyond doubt to be the least efficient method of renewable energy generation, especially when compared to wind power, and indeed the most damaging to the natural environment, with absolutely no evidence to show that solar farms can be reasonably restored to agriculture at the end of their useful life without considerable cost.


A1 – The initial consultation on the Botley West Solar Farm initial proposal, focused primarily on the benefits of the scheme and as expected with early consultation of this kind, there was limited information available on the wide ranging potential impacts of the proposal.


It is clear that the scale of this proposal and total greenfield land take required, could result in a range of impacts on the natural & historic environment and directly affect a large number of communities.


The response to the initial consultation clearly shows, that the community understands how building a solar farm at such a large scale could detrimentally impact the local environment, particularly in proximity to communities in West Oxfordshire and beyond.


The promoters of the solar farm will understandably from their viewpoint, focus on the potential benefits of the scheme, whether it’s on the potential to deliver a supply of renewable energy, to contribute towards meeting net zero carbon targets or to contribute to national energy security.


In determining whether the proposal should be granted permission however, the Planning Inspectorate must look at the balance of benefits and harms of the proposed scheme.


There is no doubt that the solar farm will result in a range of both harms and benefits and the promoters of the Solar farm must make clear what these are, so that a balanced judgment can be made on the appropriateness of the scheme.


We await further details of the proposal, as well as detailed assessment of the environmental impacts of the solar farm, so that we can decide, on balance whether the Botley West Solar Farm is a good thing or not. Communities will benefit from more detailed information that will be published through the developer’s detailed consultation, to decide themselves whether the proposal is a good thing.


It is clear to us, from the correspondence we have received so far, that the community are concerned about the impacts of the solar farm. The scale, location, impacts on landscape and biodiversity, the use of farmland and availability of alternative renewable technologies and locations, all shape the community view, that the solar farm as currently proposed is not appropriate. There has been very little emphasis on the benefits of the proposal arising from the affected communities to date.


We know that there is scepticism about the energy generating claims made by the solar farm promoter and we will request clarity to be provided on these claims.


We are required to report on the local impacts of the proposed solar farm. Consideration will be given to the impacts on Green Belt, landscape, biodiversity, the health and wellbeing of communities, heritage and flood risk, and we will submit our Local Impact Report as part of the decision making process.


The efficiency of solar panels and whether this is a viable proposal, is ultimately a decision for the developer and landowner. It is apparent that they consider the proposal to be commercially viable, although the scale of the proposal is likely to have a bearing on such viability and the ability to make financial returns.


It is unlikely that large scale wind farms would be considered appropriate within the West Oxfordshire landscape, so we must accept that such speculative proposals for other renewable energy technologies are to be expected. That is clear from the significant number of applications we have received for new solar farm developments in Oxfordshire.


In the absence of a clear strategy for renewable energy generation, decisions will be made on an ad-hoc basis, considering each individual scheme on its own merits, taking account of the cumulative impact of all other planned development, which in the case of West Oxfordshire is significant.


We wish to make a fully informed judgment as to whether the harms of the proposal outweigh the benefits and will carry out any assessments as considered necessary to inform this.


As far as we are aware, the community, at present, is not convinced of the merits of the draft proposal as outlined to them.


The District Council declared a climate emergency in 2019. We support measures to help us achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and recognise the importance of renewable energy generation in achieving such goals. We also recognise however, as the community does, that the race to increase renewable energy capacity should not be at the expense of the environment or the health & wellbeing of our communities.


We therefore wish to reassure the community that we are taking the Botley West Solar Farm scheme seriously, but haven’t yet reached a position, until all that evidence is gathered.


Q1a – As I understand it, there are two elements that West Oxfordshire District Council we be involved in. One is to review the statement of community consultation, and the other is to carry out your impact assessment. Please can you reassure us that these thing will be done well and rigorously, and that they will be using valid and scientific data over the claims of PR and marketing?


A1a – Yes, is the real answer to that one and I wouldn’t say anything other. I actually believe in robust testing and challenge and proper evidence that can actually be challenged too.

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