Plans to turn North Yorkshire farmland into a solar development turned down by council
Robert and Emma Sturdy, of Eden Farm near Old Malton, were left stunned following a back track by councillors who refused an application – earmarked for approval by planning officers – that would have seen 130 acres of their 280 acre farm filled with more than 90,000 solar panels.
The Sturdys are Agricultural Holdings Act tenants of the Fitzwilliam Trust Corporation and their campaign started in October 2020 when Harmony Energy revealed plans to site a solar development on land used for arable farming.
The Sturdys said it would take a million loaves of bread out of the food supply chain. Harmony Energy said it would supply the average annual electricity needs of 38 per cent of the households in what was the former Ryedale District Council area.
Following the planning meeting of North Yorkshire Council on October 10, in which 10 councillors to four voted in favour of the Sturdy’s arguments, Mrs Sturdy told Country Post: “Throughout the whole campaign and the last three years, we were very hopeful and thought we had every chance. We had really strong arguments and had been intelligent about how we put them forward so we were not offending or upsetting people.
“The report came out that recommended it be granted and that just broke my heart. When we went to the meeting I fully expected coming out having to pick up the pieces.”
While it is possible the developer may appeal the decision, the case has gained national attention and could well be used as a point of reference in future cases.
The Sturdys also hope to lobby government as arguments grow for the need for the UK to become more food sustainable and climate conscious.
Mrs Sturdy added: “People have contacted us since this happened in terms of tenants and groups and other people that say they have been inspired - some are losing 700 acres, this and that, and people are accepting this from landlords. If we can help other tenants we will be over the moon.
"We need to maintain food self sufficiency levels. The NFU have been getting the government to commit to that. Rishi Sunak has committed to maintaining food security at the levels we are at now. This goes against the PM and where we want to be.”
She stressed that they were not against solar use but called for tenants to be included in negotiations.
She added: “I hope from now on this will make landlords and developers think about their approach. Nobody thought about us and if they did it was an afterthought.
“This is not just a landlord and developer, they need to work with the tenant prior to any applications going in. We want and need solar power but if developers are going to claim land like ours they need to expect to be challenged."
George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association said: “We will wait to see if the developer decides to appeal this decision, but it sends a really crucial message to all other developers that they cannot treat tenant farmers as merely collateral damage.
"I would hope it would also be clearly understood by all planning officers up and down the country that the impact on the personal circumstances of tenant farmers is a material consideration which they must take into account when they reach their decisions in respect of the recommendations to planning committees.”
The Fitzwilliam Trust Corporation Ltd has been approached for comment.