Solar firm Sunnica urged to ‘man up’ and begin talking to the people of East Cambridgeshire about their 500 megawatt energy farm

PUBLISHED: 17:44 21 September 2020 | UPDATED: 17:44 21 September 2020

Conservative councillors Josh Schumann (left) and Cllr Julie Huffer (right) and Lib Dem Cllr Simon Harries agreed on the need for Sunnica to be more open and transparent over their energy farm proposals for East Cambridgeshire. Pictyre; ARCHANT

Conservative councillors Josh Schumann (left) and Cllr Julie Huffer (right) and Lib Dem Cllr Simon Harries agreed on the need for Sunnica to be more open and transparent over their energy farm proposals for East Cambridgeshire. Pictyre; ARCHANT

Archant

A company planning one of the country’s biggest solar energy farms – spread across six East Cambridgeshire and West Suffolk villages – was told to ‘man up’ and face concerns head-on.

Julia Denise Huffer (Con) and Josh Schumann (Con) Fordham Villages. Picture: Steve Williams.Julia Denise Huffer (Con) and Josh Schumann (Con) Fordham Villages. Picture: Steve Williams.

Minutes of their recent committee show the extent and scale of that criticism, with councillors relating how many villagers had been in touch to express their anger and frustration.

The Sunnica Energy Farm is a National Strategic Infrastructure Project and will be decided by the Secretary of State.

East Cambs Council is a consultee and at a later stage will be invited to draw together a response for the energy plant that would be built to the east of the district and around Isleham, Chippenham and Kennett.

Villages affected in West Suffolk are Freckenham, Worlington and Snailwell. There is a cable route connecting to Burwell electrical sub station

iberal Democrat councillors for Ely North Alison Whelan and Simon Harries at the MoD site in Ely. Picture; ELY LIB DEMSiberal Democrat councillors for Ely North Alison Whelan and Simon Harries at the MoD site in Ely. Picture; ELY LIB DEMS

The proposal will provide 500MW through solar panels and batteries to power 100,000 homes.

Cllr Julie Huffer told the planning committee that three parish councils in her ward – those most affected - “have had no direct communication”.

She said Sunnica writing to them “is simply not good enough; they need to address parish councils, either remotely or publicly”

Sunnica “needs to man up and address their fears or talk to them; their concerns not being addressed”.

Energy farm proposed by Sunnica apreading across East Cambs and West Suffolk,Energy farm proposed by Sunnica apreading across East Cambs and West Suffolk,

Cllr Huffer said: “Sunnica needs to learn how to talk to people and address people’s concerns else the rumour mill will take hold.

“People are anxious, worried, concerned their homes are going to be decimated by this; we want green energy but not at any cost”.

She said people were entitled to the “quiet enjoyment of the countryside” but Sunnica just seems to be ignoring them.

Cllr Josh Schumann described consultation with parish councils to date as “woefully inadequate and laughable”.

Energy farm proposed by Sunnica apreading across East Cambs and West Suffolk,Energy farm proposed by Sunnica apreading across East Cambs and West Suffolk,

The way concerns and fears are mitigated needs to be upfront and honest, he said, and “I can’t see any of that from Sunnica.

“I urge the strongest of messages go to Sunnica to understand what they are proposing and to suggest they start to talk about details.”

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Cllr Schumann said many were concerned about a huge area around villages with proposed walls, four metres high, to screen the solar farm.

He had huge concerns about those who feared being “boxed in” and “it is just unacceptable; if they are going to consult, then do it properly and with information people can understand, comprehend and comment on.

“At the moment it is all very wishy washy and hit and miss.”

Committee chairperson Cllr Bill Hunt said he, too, had concerns about the possible implications for the Kennett housing plans. He supported the idea of “flagging up” potential issues now.

Cllr Simon Harries felt it important consultations were “open and transparent”.

He said it was a cross party issue and he associated himself with the comments of Conservative members.

Cllr Harries wanted “open and transparent consultation with people” and he felt voices of local people need to be heard and developers need to engage with them honestly.

And he criticised the “cynical premise” of Sunnica who he felt might not feel the need to consult locally since the decision was not being taken locally.

Sunnica wants to build an energy farm with solar photovoltaic (PV) and energy storage infrastructure connecting to the Burwell National Grid substation.

Here are the sites:

• Sunnica East Site A, near Isleham

• Sunnica East Site B, near Freckenham and Worlington

• Sunnica West Site A, near Chippenham and Kennett

• Sunnica West Site B, near Snailwell

The company says on its website it is engaged with long term consultation and has recently “looked carefully at where to locate the different elements that comprise the scheme and how we would manage their impact on the local environment”.

East Cambs Council planning team leader Andrew Phillips said that the council would make representations on the part of the proposals that were agreed or challenged, respectively. There would be an opportunity for councillors to make an input.


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