Rutland MP Alicia Kearns hosts public meeting on Mallard Pass Solar Farm
Residents attending a public meeting on a proposed solar farm were told: "This is not a done deal".
The Conservative MP for Rutland, Alicia Kearns, organised the meeting for people from Essendine, Ryhall and Belmesthorpe to express their views on the Mallard Pass scheme last night (Thursday, April 7) at Essendine Village Hall.
If approved, the solar farm would cover an area the size of 1,400 football pitches around Essendine and between Stamford, Ryhall, Uffington, Greatford, Carlby and Braceborough.
The company behind the scheme, Canadian Solar in partnership with Windel Energy, was invited to attend but pulled out last week, saying there was no new information to share.
Mrs Kearns opened the meeting by expressing her frustration that Canadian Solar was not there, despite "promising two months ago to attend" but said her priority was to listen to people's concerns and take them back to the firm.
Sitting in front of a banner that read 'Yes to green energy, No to Mallard Pass', she said the developers had said they would attend a public meeting when there is something new to say and said: "I will hold them to that. It matters. Whether you support it or you don't, it matters to have your say."
Mallard Pass Action Group was set up to oppose the plans and four members of the group, Sue Holloway, Adrian Forsell, Phil Britton and Tony Orvis, were present to answer questions and outline their fight.
Mrs Kearns expressed her sadness that action group campaigner Keith Busfield, who died recently, was not at the meeting and paid tribute to him, saying he was a "strong advocate on so many topics".
"We wanted Canadian Solar to see his empty seat here tonight and they chose not to come," she said, adding that this was a "disservice" to him.
Setting out the issues, Ms Holloway said the six-week consultation last autumn - in which the vast majority of respondents opposed the scheme - was "non-statutory" and was "just done to keep a feel for the level of opposition".
She urged people to keep making their views known by responding to Mrs Kearns' petition to be presented in the House of Commons, responding to the next public consultation, and contacting councillors.
Mallard Pass solar farm will be decided by the Government Planning Inspectorate rather than by South Kesteven and Rutland councils because of its size. Mrs Kearns said this was because "no council in its right mind" would approve such an application. Both councils will be able to comment formally.
Ms Holloway said the action group would face a big task to review the next consultation and collate feedback and would fight for more than the eight weeks usually allowed.
"We have all got to be resilient through this. We have another 18 months to go but this is not a done deal. If we all work to challenge it, we can get changes. If we do nothing, if we don't contribute, then this will happen," she added.
Mr Forsell said the revised plans in the next stage of the public consultation were "highly likely to be smaller", saying that Canadian Solar could then "use that argument" to say it had listened to local feedback.
He also raised concerns about access to the solar farm during the two-year construction phase and the impact on the A1 and on local roads, believing Canadian Solar has "vastly underestimated" the amount of construction traffic passing through.
Mr Forsell said he had questioned whether it would provide cheaper electricity to villagers and had been given a "vague response", concluding: "There is no community benefit to this at all."
Among other concerns raised by members of the 50-strong gathering were the size of the solar farm - which would be six times larger that the UK's current largest solar farm; that it would be developed on good agricultural land with concerns that food-production land would be lost at a time when it is needed more than ever; and the impact on wildlife, with the solar panels standing at 12ft because the site is prone to flooding, and fences surrounding them being potentially even higher.
Mrs Kearns also raised concerns about the human rights record of Canadian Solar, saying panels had been seized in America because its supplier had been sanctioned by the US Government due to their complicity in the abuse of the Uyghur people in China.
Mrs Kearns is pushing for the company to be sanctioned in the UK as well, saying: "This company is not capable of delivering what it states and its values are so at odds with those of Rutlanders."
She went on to say that the Government's energy strategy was set to focus more on wind turbines and that she felt the roofs of commercial buildings and schools were more appropriate for solar panels, than valuable rural land.
"There are businesses and schools right here in Rutland crying out to put solar panels on their roofs and they are coming to me to ask for grants and are desperate to play their part," she said.
She has raised the issue directly with the Prime Minister, the business secretary, the foreign officer and other cabinet members.
"Every member of the cabinet has received a card with an image of their constituency and an outline of Mallard Pass on top of it and I can tell you they were pretty shocked at the size," said Mrs Kearns, adding: "I want to create a climate in which there is no way on this Earth will this be given the go-ahead".
Mr Orvis, a member of the action group, raised concerns about the dangers of the lithium-ion batteries, of which he said there would be thousands on the site, that could potentially start fires giving off hazardous gases.
"When I started out on this, I was an advocate of solar energy but I am not now," he added.
He questioned the output of the solar farm, with figures previously suggesting the farm would power 92,000 homes. He said his research showed this was based on a clear, sunny day, with no breeze and temperatures of 24C.
Mr Orvis also said that he had questioned the carbon footprint of the "so-called green scheme" and said it would be "enormous" with some materials needed to develop the batteries developed in Australia or South America before being shipped to China, where the panels are manufactured.
Mrs Kearns ended the meeting, saying: "This is a community that stands together and is united in how unhappy we are."
After the meeting, those behind Mallard Pass were asked for a comment.
A spokesperson said: "The Mallard Pass Solar Team informed Kearns’ office on Monday, March 7, hat they would attend the public meeting that she had arranged for April 7, but in preparing for this meeting in the two weeks that followed, realised that there are no further details able to be shared at this time. That is why the team promptly informed Kearns MP on Tuesday, March 29, March that they wish to postpone the meeting and hold it at a later time in the process, when further technical studies have been completed and more detailed proposals for the project are available.
"The proposals for Mallard Pass Solar Farm have the potential to deliver benefits to the local community and UK consumers as a whole by delivering reliable, low-cost energy to the national grid. As part of the consultation process for the project, the team is dedicated to working with people in the area to ensure that the proposals represent an inclusive scheme, inviting ideas and feedback from local communities and stakeholders. Seeking to sensitively design the project to work with existing features in the landscape, the landscape strategy will deliver multiple benefits, including retaining Public Rights of Way (PRoWs), connecting habitats across the site, and providing new planting which stands to enhance local wildlife and / or recreational routes. The project seeks to deliver a biodiversity net gain, to enhance and connect green networks and link recreational routes.
"The team looks forward to the upcoming statutory consultation and hearing all feedback on the refined plans. They hope the community will continue to engage with the consultation and have their say as the development process moves forward, and the project-dedicated communications lines remain open for any interested parties to get in touch."
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