Corporation which owns farmland earmarked for solar farm defends controversial project

The corporation which owns North Yorkshire farmland earmarked for a large solar farm has defended the controversial project, claiming it will bring “environmental and economic benefits”.

Locals protest against Harmony Energy's plans for the solar farm near Old Malton
Locals protest against Harmony Energy's plans for the solar farm near Old Malton

Harmony Energy is planning to set up around 92,500 panels on land near Old Malton and says they could generate up to 50MW of low-carbon electricity, which is enough to power more than 14,000 homes.

A planning application has not been submitted yet, but the project has proved to be controversial because around 130 acres of land at Eden Farm have been earmarked for the project.

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Robert and Emma Sturdy, who run the farm, have vowed to fight against the scheme, claiming it will take high-quality farmland out of production.

But Fitzwilliam Trust Corporation, which owns the land and supports the scheme, said the farmers will be compensated and the land “can continue to be used for grazing livestock”.

A spokesman added: “The environmental considerations show that the biodiversity of the land will be enhanced as, whilst conventional arable farming is an emitter of carbon, the scheme will sequester soil carbon and replace electricity currently generated by fossil fuels.

"The details of the environmental benefits will be available with the comprehensive plan which is being prepared for the planning application.

“The location of the solar farm is immediately adjacent to an existing substation, providing convenient connection to the grid and the power generated is estimated to be able to provide for 14,000 homes.

“The scheme will be financed without any subsidy or farm payments and the outcome will generate business rates for Ryedale District Council estimated to be in excess of £100,000 per annum. In addition, Harmony Energy is proposing to make an annual sum available to support local community projects in Malton."

A spokesman for Harmony Energy said locals will "have the chance to ask questions to the project team" and the company "will listen to all feedback before we submit our planning application".

“We are keen to make sure that the local community has the opportunity to fully understand why we believe this is the only viable site in Ryedale for large scale solar energy generation and to establish the economic and environmental benefits our proposed development would offer," he added.

Mrs Sturdy said: "The Fitzwilliam Trust show a complete failure to understand their responsibility as a landowner and the issues at the heart of this proposal. They continue to show a total disregard for the people of Malton and importantly for their longstanding farming tenants.

"From their head office in far away Wiltshire, the Fitzwilliam Trust talk about the statutory arrangement to compensate us, this is around £46,000 for lost income from the farm over the next 60 years - an average of £760 a year."

She added: "We remain fully supportive of renewable energy but there must be a balance between our food production and managing climate change, the hi-jacking of top quality agricultural land in this rural environment cannot be justified."