Our Council, Torridge District Council, are under investigation because they may have falsified an independent report to down play the impact of a new development on our ground mounted solar array
The Local Government Ombudsman are investigating Torridge District Council Planning Department because they lied and mislead the Plans Committee in order to pass a small housing development because it shadows our ground mounted solar array cutting the renewable energy to our home and business.
The solar array was built only two years ago with planning approval from the same committee that approved houses that will shade the array for 7-8 months of the year making it redundant.
This has great significance because the array powers Hippy Motors and we are very proud that we are the only carbon neutral decal manufacturer in the world because of the power from the array. As you know we design and make vehicle decals from our property and have done so for over 17 years and for the past two years it’s used Devon sunshine to do so.
It took us three months to get the council to acknowledge the array as being valid enough to warrant it being a ‘material consideration’ in the housing proposal. Once it was recognised by them they were forced to properly evaluate the impact on it from of any new development. In the end they were forced to commission an independent report after the developments architects repeatedly insisted on positioning the solar array going through a solid stone wall and going underground into a neighbouring garden. When the independent report finally came through (three workings days before the decision was made by the council) they had, possibly intentionally, placed the array, once more, going through a stone wall and in a subterranean position in a neighbours garden away from the development. I say intentionally because I told them repeatedly where it was and that the architects were wrong but they commissioned the report using the architects information not mine so I can only see they knew exactly what they were doing, but maybe they were unaware it was in the wrong position on the report.
We employed a lawyer and he officially requested a delay prior to the decision to look into this report as it needed to be scrutinised and its conclusions did not allow the council to properly evaluate the impact on the array. I also wrote personally to the members of the plans committee. This request was ignored and the report at the planning meeting and in the case officers report was presented as true and councillors voted by the narrowest of margins (a single vote) to approve the development.
I have questioned the council that a payment of £97,000 that they will get if they approve the development is a factor in having the development approved. They told me it did not.
We have proved without any question that the council commissioned the report and placed the array in the same incorrect position the developers repeatedly put it. This has far reaching implications that go beyond our small town and business here in Devon. No one who has ever invested in renewable energy installations currently has any firm legal protection. A local Authority can do what they like and effectively stop it’s output if they want. Their are a lot of small scale renewable installations as this one that, in total, help enormously to help meet the UK’s own targets for carbon reduction but if local authorities such as Torridge continue to accept large cash bonuses to approve housing developments then they will continue to feel pressure to ignore renewable installations.
This is nothing new, for the last few years several local authorities have been forced to reverse their decisions after Judicial Reviews order them to do so. These reviews site the NPPF as overriding the authority in that it says renewable energy installations must be a priority.
But we could not afford the £15-25,000 required to take Torridge to a Judicial Review although we were told I had a good chance to win based on previous cases. We could not take that forward because even after that, all a developer needs to do, is change something slightly and start the hideous process again.
I could go on but I will not as this has wasted enough of my time and money trying to defend myself against a greedy Torridge Council.
Some of you out there, our customers, did support us at the time and lodged official objections with the council. We thank you for that but sorry it seemed not to make any difference.
For information on the development please look at the development listing on the Torridge District Council planning portal by following this link or find it yourselves using the application number 1/0070/2018/OUT
I have no idea if the investigation will rule in our favour, all we can do is try to tell people about the (possible) corruption and, despite the favourable noises from councils and government, this does show they do not care about renewable targets or any climate emergency they say they are dealing with. It seems form this case that if you flash a few quid to a council and you’ll get approval from a planning authority...thereby giving them no trust from the tax paying public they should be working for. This world is heading for severe climate change and houses being built to stop renewable energy production should be stopped as it only assists in accelerating the problem. Why should businesses and households make substantial investments in renewable energy if they are not protected from greedy authorities and benefits removed after only a couple of years? Businesses and households like ours that are carbon neutral should be held as examples for others to emulate not shut down.
Thanks for reading, time for a cuppa made using our sunshine,
Matt and Angela Whittaker