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I am a Campaign Group…

CARE Suffolk isn’t just a campaign group. The residents behind CARE Suffolk came together because of a solar farm proposal in our area, but it isn’t why we created CARE Suffolk.

CARE Suffolk was created for the benefit of our small rural community for the long term. To bring together our villages and to put on and share in events for the wellbeing of all, and the care of the rural environment we live in.

However, we have taken on the campaign challenge against the three solar PV farms (and other industrial energy infrastructure) in the rural countryside in our area around Bramford substation.

How we can help you…

CARE Suffolk is run entirely by volunteers. And so our efforts are largely focused on the villages our volunteers live in (Bramford, Bramford Tye, Burstall, Flowton, Somersham, Little Blakenham, and Elmsett), because these are the areas that we have intimate knowledge and experience of.

Your group are probably all volunteers too. So you are the best ones to campaign in your area, because you have intimate knowledge and experience of your area. You know the best views, the best walks, where the birds nest and the deer roam. You know the crop rotation cycles, where the wildflowers grow, and how the sun falls across your landscape. You know where the pinch points and near miss sites are along your local roads and where it usually floods.

It has been a very steep learning curve for us, and we want to share with you below what we have done so far. You are welcome to borrow any of our ideas for yourselves.

Forming Your Group

We have over 50 members from 7 different parishes now, but we started with about 10 people from one parish. One person made a post in the village Facebook group asking if anyone else knew about the solar development. From there another person made the good suggestion of a Zoom meeting (this was in the middle of COVID). During the Zoom meeting it was agreed to form a working group. And from there the stone was rolling. It is amazing how things grow as word starts to spread and people start to believe.

Topic Specialists

Depending on what stage the proposed development is in your area, you may know that there are a lot of technical topics related to a solar farm. Parish Councils, and to some extent even Town and District Councils, are used to housing applications. But solar farms are another ball game entirely. And the amount of information to take in, process, and assess is overwhelming. It is perfectly fair to sit there and wonder “where on earth do I start?” and wish that a hole would appear to swallow you up.

Early on we came up with a tactic which has been a lifesaver for us!

As individuals you cannot reasonably be expected to learn and understand everything there is to know about a solar farm and the specific development you are facing. But as a group, together, you can.

Early on we decided we wanted to submit a comprehensive and technical group objection, covering as many topics as possible. You may have read one of (or maybe part of) our objections. But we couldn’t all possibly write about all the topics and produce a coherent document we agreed on. So we didn’t.

We made the decision to become “topic specialists”. One person would take on one topic (e.g. landscape, flooding, traffic, waste, biodiversity, etc.). That person would research and learn about that topic, how it relates to solar farms, planning policy and good practice. Then that person would take on the task of analysing the application documents for that topic, and producing an objection report on that topic.

There would then be one person to compile all topic reports into one large group objection and submit it to the Council before the public consultation deadline closed. We also sent out drafts to the whole group so people could provide feedback to further improve it. Maybe something was missing, or something wasn’t quite clear and could be reworded. We also had one person perform a grammar edit of the whole thing.

If you don’t have enough people to take on a topic each then that’s OK too. At first we only had half the topics covered. People joined us and took on topics. We also have a few people who have more than one topic. And we have a few topics with more than one person. A mini team of sorts. We still don’t have anyone who has taken on the topic of archaeology.

Focus on the topics that are likely to make the biggest difference. Landscape and Visual Impact is a must. Agricultural land if it is high grade land. Heritage if you have listed buildings in the area. Flooding if parts of the area flood regularly. Glint & Glare if you have an airfield nearby. Traffic and Public Rights of Way are good ones to bundle up together.

If you have someone with a profession linked to any topics, then they are the best person for that. Then anyone with a hobby or particular interest in a topic. Don’t be afraid to take on a topic even if you have no experience in it. It is surprising how much you can learn!

Oh, and here are the list of topics we considered…

  • Landscape & Visual Amenity
  • Heritage (things like listed buildings, and above ground remains)
  • Archaeology
  • Agricultural Land & Soil
  • Biodiversity/ Ecology/ Wildlife (whichever you wish to call it)
  • Flood Risk & Drainage
  • Traffic & Access
  • Public Rights of Way
  • Glint & Glare
  • Noise & Air Quality/Pollution
  • Population & Human Health
  • Climate Change
  • Waste & Decomissioning
  • Major Accidents & Disasters

Other specialists that are likely to be very valuable to you are: PR & Marketing Consultants, Solicitors, and Planning Consultants.

Hiring Specialists

Whilst we are quickly on the topic of specialists, there are a range of planning specialists you can hire. You can hire a general planning consultant or you could hire a specialist consultant, for example a noise consultant. In general they would look at the planning application made, conduct their own research, and produce a report objecting to the application on your behalf. Please note this would not prevent you from submitting your own individual objection too. These do cost a considerable amount of money.

Getting the Word Out

Spreading the word about the development is one of the hardest tasks. Second only to getting people to submit an objection.

There are several ways to go about this:

  • Posters, signs and banners
  • Local meetings and events
  • Village/ local social media pages and groups
  • Leaflets
  • Village magazines
  • Chatting with those you meet

At CARE Suffolk we found leaflets to be the most effective. A group in Hertsmere primarily used banners and social media.

You can also engage with local tv, local newspapers and local radio shows. This route can be unpredictable though, as you have little control over what actually gets published or aired (unless it is live).

Objection Templates

When it comes to writing objections it can be… overwhelming. People will ask, and you may be tempted, to write a template letter for them. Before you do this though, please speak to your local planning department.

Some planning departments want to see original comments only. In this case, receiving copy and pasted templates over and over again is likely to hurt your goal. If this is the case for your Council, as it was for ours, then please refrain from giving residents a template to use.

You can give them starting points, but encourage them to expand on these with their own thoughts, feelings, and point of view. Encourage them to share stories of what they love about living in the area, and how the development would adversely impact that. Encourage them to include their own photos and evidence too.

Here at CARE Suffolk, because we have the website, we chose to publish articles around different topics on our website. The articles are not aimed at telling people what to write, but to explain the situation, give examples, and quote some of the applicable planning policies.

Conversely, some planning departments are happy to see template letters. If this is the case then make it available in as many places as you can for residents. Village halls, pubs, local shops, and social media for instance. You could even post a copy through letter boxes or make a copy available on a website for download.

Whichever route you take, it is important to ensure you give people the following information:

  • Planning Application Number(s)
  • Where to send the Objection
  • Personal information that MUST be included (Full Name, Full Address, Planning Application Number)

Photos

A quick note on photos. When discussing topics such as landscape, it should be represented as a worst case scenario. This means during winter when the trees and hedges are not in leaf. It is not uncommon for developers to use photos from the summer when views are well screened due to full hedges and trees. If you are anticipating an application, and it is winter now, please take as many photos as you can of different viewpoints at close, mid-range, and long distances. You can then use this as evidence in your objection.

Engage with Statutory Consultees

Here at CARE Suffolk we have spoken to numerous groups across the country who have come to us for advice. One piece of advice we give that seems to surprise most is to engage with the statutory consultees. The statutory consultees will be experts in their speciality. But you are expert in your local area.

There may be something of concern to you that has been overlooked and missed from the application documents. Which may then be missed by the statutory consultee. You can contact the statutory consultee with the information. Or even try to arrange a meeting on site with them. Though don’t be surprised if they are too busy – a lot of Council departments are struggling for adequate resources.

If you have topic specialists it can be their role to contact the consultee for their topic.

Learn from other groups, other objections, and previous refusals

Just like you are reading this and learning from us, other groups are usually willing to share their experiences too. After all, that’s how we got started. Send them an email and ask for a Zoom meeting or a phone call. You can contact us too.

Many campaign groups came together late 2021/early 2022 to form the Solar Campaign Alliance, including CARE Suffolk.

On 21st April 2022 the SCA and Community Planning Alliance co-hosted a webinar called All About Solar Farms.

Objections and refusals for other solar PV developments (actually this applies to all similar types of development) are a goldmine. This can be public objections, Council and Councillor objections, Statutory Consultee objections, Planning Refusals, and even Planning Inspector refusals for appeals. You can learn how objections and arguments are formed, get a feel for the language used, and even find new angles you hadn’t yet considered. You may even find a refusal written by a Planning Inspector that sounds like it was written for your site! You could then copy the flow of the argument but replace it with details specific to your site. This is exactly how the format of the Landscape & Visual chapter in the CARE Suffolk objection for Enso Energy was crafted.

To that end, you are welcome to use any of the content in the CARE Suffolk objections for your own objections, with one caveat. Please, please, ensure all details are specific to your site and your local area, and that planning policy references are checked to be up to date (the NPPF for example has undergone a few changes recently so paragraph numbers in our earlier objections will have changed since).

Want a chat?

Send us an email to team@caresuffolk.org, or use the form on the Contact Us page.

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