A SOLAR farm roughly the size of 78 football pitches is to be built on farmland on the outskirts of Bideford.

The planning committee at Torridge District Council (TDC) gave the green light for the 156-acre development at Webbery Barton and Cleave Farm near Alverdiscott, 2.5 km from Bideford.

The solar farm, with panels of a maximum height of three metres, could generate 50 megawatts of electricity, enough to power around 15,000 homes.

Lightsource SPV 175 Limited, the London-based energy company that will install the panels, says more than 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide will be saved every year from the project, the equivalent of taking more than 5,000 large family cars off the road.

Dale Hall from CPRE, a charity and lobby group focused on countryside issues formerly known as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, criticised the plans, saying it would make food shortages worse by taking away farmland.

Mr Hall claimed the site wouldn’t serve a purpose as it would mainly generate electricity in the summer when it is less needed and that the carbon footprint of the solar panels would make the climate crisis worse.

He did not provide evidence to demonstrate these arguments.

He concluded: “The planning application should be refused on the basis that the proposal would provide no benefits to offset the harm to the landscape, to the wildlife and to food production.

“We should all be concerned because the natural environment in Devon is under threat from developments such as these and they are not as virtuous as they purport to be.”

Councillor Peter Christie (Green Party, Bideford North) described the CPRE arguments as “really odd.”

Local resident Keith Baxter said the development “would be totally out of scale within its bucolic rural environment” and would: “stick out like a sore thumb.”

David Moore, the farmer who owns the land where the panels will be built, said: “I would like to emphasise that this proposed planning application serves our country well.

“We can continue producing food for our nation.

“We shall be reducing our cattle numbers and increasing the sheep, therefore reducing the risk of pollution to our fabulous Torridge Valley.

“We believe it is most important under the present circumstances with the world in disarray.

“Self-sufficiency, looking after ourselves, is the order of the day.”

He said lambs will be able to graze around and even under the panels when the weather gets too hot, as they do with solar panels nearby.

Mr Moore described the application as “a win-win situation” for us all.

The solar panels will be built across three parcels of land neighbouring agricultural fields and an existing solar farm.

The land already hosts Alverdiscott’s electricity sub-station and its power lines and pylons.

Access would be through an unnamed road between Gammaton Moor in the south and Webbery Barton in the north.

No public highways or public rights of way would reach the development.

If given the go-ahead, CCTV will be installed next to the solar panels, with cameras mounted 2.5-metre high.

A composting lavatory would be brought in.

Bideford Town Council backed the plans in February and Natural England has not objected to the proposed development.

A recent report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the planet is on track for irreversible climate breakdown.

Torridge declared a climate emergency in 2019 and has a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030.

Councillor Dermot McGeough (Conservatives, Bideford North) backed the solar farm plans, saying: “We’ve got to be forward-thinking.

“Some people aren’t going to like it but for the wider good I think this application should go through because we do need the renewable energy.”

The application was approved unanimously.

Joe Ives