Swindon Borough Council states its case for major solar farm project at Wroughton airfield
It was with some disappointment that I read the article relating to the proposed solar farm at Wroughton on your website yesterday. Not, I hasten to add, because you have legitimately reported the views of the opponents of the scheme, but because no attempt has been made to obtain a view from Swindon Borough Council to provide some semblance of balance.
It was surprising to read that the council’s decision was a ‘shock’. In fact, the cross-party members of the Planning Committee accepted the recommendation of planning officers to grant the scheme following their preparation of a detailed and very comprehensive report.
While the members of the Planning Committee in Swindon have a long record of taking their own view on planning decisions, their decision is this particular case can’t therefore really be described as a ‘shock’.
The committee heard from representatives who were in support of the application before they debated the issue, as well as those against it. I would also point out that the proposal was supported by the local parish council and by the local MP, facts absent from the story.
It is surely relevant to report that the view of members of the planning committee is also shared by other people who are democratically elected, who are the accepted representatives of the views of their local communities. This, I believe, is currently known as ‘localism’.
The implication that is clearly behind the line that the council gave itself planning permission for the scheme is not reasonable, at least outside of reported speech.
The application was a joint one between the Science Museum and Swindon Commercial Services. It is true that the latter is wholly owned by the council, but it is legally separate entity and is managed separately.
Nonetheless, it was always an allegation that was going to be made if the application was granted, and so it has proved.
It’s one of the reasons why planning officers were entirely content that the application should be referred to the National Planning Casework Unit, in part to counter any suggestion that the council had given approval to something in which it had an interest, without the opportunity for further independent scrutiny.
This is not the impression given in the story: rather, it suggests that the council – as the local planning authority - would rather this additional scrutiny had not been part of the process, but has been forced down that route by the AONB Board.
I can understand why the AONB Board may want to foster that impression, but it isn’t the complete picture.
This is part of what the Council’s Head of Planning said to the members before they debated the issue: “It is worth advising members of the Government’s approach to renewable energy, and solar farms in particular. A recent ministerial statement is clear that the Secretary of State will take an interest in solar proposals particularly where there are significant impacts and where there is large scale public opposition.
“Accordingly, and in respect of a request from the AONB Board, officers must advise the National Planning Casework Unit of the decision made by Committee on this application.
“It is then up to the Casework Unit to decide if they wish to ‘recover’ the application, which would mean that a decision would be made by an Inspector following a public inquiry.”
One of the great things about local newspaper journalism, whose recent decline disappoints me as it clearly does you, is that it tended to be free of the vices of national journalism, where public discourse and debate is skewed because no national paper is genuinely interested in seeking to genuinely inform.
They merely seek to reinforce the prejudices of their readers, and approach each story accordingly. It’s had a severe and detrimental effect on the public’s view of the motivation and actions of those who run the country’s public services, because a fair hearing is hard to come by.
It’s why I am particularly disappointed in this story, given the credentials of those behind the website on which it is published.
Swindon Borough Council
Editor’s note: Mr Freeman misunderstands the use of the adjective “shock”, which, in our previous reports, as he is aware, referred to the reaction of North Wessex ANOB to his council deciding to grant planning consent for its own application.
At no time during our reporting of this issue has Swindon Borough Council or Mr Freeman contacted Marlborough News Online to provide an explanation of its views or actions, now due to be decided by a public inquiry.