Plans for a solar farm to be built in East Devon have been thrown out after planners received 70 letters of objection.

Effects on the appearance, enhanced risk of flooding and proximity to heritage assets were listed as reasons for refusing the application at Marsh Green near Rockbeare.

The council had been asked to grant a 40-year planning permission to build a mounted solar farm on the land at Marsh Green Farm.

Included in the proposal were plans to build associated landscaping, an ecological habitat, solar arrays, equipment housing, a substation, fencing, ancillary equipment and associated development.

Aylesbeare Parish Council supported the plans due to the need for more sources of renewable energy but they wanted to see some refinements to the proposal.

Drainage in the flood-prone area, dirt on the roads from HGVs passing through during the construction process and possible damage to a gas pipeline were among the concerns raised by the council.

They also suggested a “more sensible” speed limit on Marwood Road, a narrow route which will be used during construction, fencing which accommodates easy passage for sheep and consultations with the RSPB.

Rockbeare Parish Council objected to the proposal in the “strongest terms” partly due to the “unsuitability” of the development area. They claimed a solar farm would harm the pre-existing agricultural land and would not be conducive to the grazing of sheep.

They raised concerns surrounding the lack of parking spaces around the site and said parking on private roads, driveways and verges would not be “permissible.”

Proposed measures to tackle flooding were leaky dams and natural ponds, as well as the clearing out of nearby ditches where a lot of water accumulates.

At a meeting on Tuesday (20 December), it was confirmed following questions by Cllr Eleanor Rylance (Lib Dem, Broadclyst) that work would not take place in the winter months due to the weather and that no work would be completed during unsociable hours or weekends.

Cllr Richard Lawrence (Conservative, Whimple & Rockbeare) said the proposal went against a part of East Devon’s local plan, which encourages the approval of renewable energy projects as long as “any cumulative landscape and visual impacts” are “satisfactorily addressed.”

He said this had not been adhered to, nor was he convinced by the proposed measures to mitigate flooding. His view was shared by Cllr Philip Skinner (Conservative, Tale Vale) and Cllr Geoff Pratt (Independent, Ottery St Mary).

Cllr Lawrence rubbished suggestions the farm would power over 18,000 homes and predicted the figure would be closer to 5,000.  He also raised concerns about the restoration of land which would be temporarily altered during construction and highlighted a lack of clarity as to who would pay for the maintenance of the solar farm.

Cllr Pratt added that a solar farm would “destroy the natural environment” and lead to the loss of “extremely productive farmland.”

However, Cllr Olly Davey (Green, Exmouth Town) claimed “no unacceptable harm” would be caused as a result of the proposal being approved and pointed to a report by a conservation officer which stated the effects the development would have on heritage assets would be “less than substantial.”

He agreed the landscape would be altered by the construction of solar panels, but said the “applicants have gone to a lot of trouble to minimise the effect on the landscape.”

“I’m not denying it will change the character of the landscape,” said Cllr Davey. “I think that’s a given, but it is for us to decide whether that is acceptable or not.”

He argued there is “no evidence that there is a carbon deficit in solar panels,” and that they “put a considerable amount of energy into the national grid.”

Therefore, he felt that there were no “strong enough reasons” to reject the plan, given the need for renewable energy.

A resident farmer at the meeting slammed the proposal as an “ill-thought process” which was “fragmented,” while another argued that installing more solar panels in East Devon serves little purpose due to the amount of rain the area sees throughout the year.

Six councillors believed the issues of flooding, visual impacts on the landscape and visual impact on heritage sites was insurmountable, while four did not, meaning the controversial proposal was rejected.

In the summer, East Devon approved plans for a solar farm to be built in Clyst Hydon and more solar farm applications are on the horizon.