Yorkshire family 'gaining support' in fight against plans to cover farm with solar panels

A family fighting to save almost half of their North Yorkshire farm from being covered with thousands of solar panels say they are “gaining support” from the local community and refuse to be “railroaded”.

A group of objectors attended a Malton Town Council meeting earlier this week to show their support for the Sturdy family
A group of objectors attended a Malton Town Council meeting earlier this week to show their support for the Sturdy family

Robert Sturdy, 50, and his wife, Emma, 42, who run Eden Farm near Old Malton, have been told 130 acres of the land they tend to, which is owned by the Fitzwilliam Trust Corporation, has been earmarked for a solar farm with up to 92,500 panels.

Harmony Energy, which is looking to submit a planning application later this month and lease the land for 40 years, claims the panels could generate enough renewable energy to power 14,000 local homes a year, but the farmers have maintained it will take high-quality farmland out of production.

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Mr Sturdy’s grandfather moved to the farm in 1954 and his later father, John, took over in 1971.

Robert and Emma Sturdy with their children Sebastian and Lizzie

He has run the farm since 2014 and now lives there with his wife and their two children Sebastian, seven, and Lizzie, four.

Hundreds have rallied round the family and a group of objectors attended a Malton Town Council meeting earlier this week, when the developers gave a presentation on the plans.

“I think they’re willing to support us because we’ve already been granted our tenancy, which is a three-generation tenancy,” said Mrs Sturdy. “Rob has the right to farm this land for his lifetime.”

She added: “This land is occupied and it’s already farmed. We appreciate the place for renewables in the future and the need for them, but it has to be located on low-grade land.

“That means that if they need to go some way further afield from the substation, at an extra expense to them, then so be it.

“I think that’s what people are saying - it’s not okay to just railroad into this community, which is a rural community.”

The National Farmers’ Union has also raised concerns about the project, claiming about 1,000 tonnes of grain could be removed from the food supply chain if solar panels are built on the farm’s arable land.

Harmony Energy has said this site has been earmarked because it needs to build a solar farm near grid sub stations to ensure it can be run without Government subsidies.

The company also said it will help Ryedale District Council hit its target of reducing Ryedale’s net emissions to zero by 2050.

A company spokesman added: “We all have a duty to help combat climate change. This project would be a key contributor towards achieving that target, supporting the provision of clean, renewable energy in Ryedale.

“Our proposed development would see the installation of free-standing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on agricultural land, with the capacity to generate up to 50MW of low carbon electricity.

"This power which would feed into the local electricity network and supply energy for the equivalent of over 14,000 local homes (more than half of those in Ryedale), or offset up to 17,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

"It would cover approximately 75 hectares of agricultural land on Fitzwilliam Trust Corporation land, which would be leased to Harmony Energy for a period of 40 years.

"The solar PV panels would be accompanied by a battery energy storage system with capacity of 30MWh, which can store renewable energy and release it when it is needed most."