WEST Somerset residents have expressed their “deep disappointment” at the news that a major new solar farm has been approved between two growing settlements.

Elgin Energy has secured permission from the Planning Inspectorate to build the facility to the north of the Washford transmission station, between Washford and Watchet.

The facility – which the company says will provide enough power for 7,500 homes – will be built on several agricultural fields belonging to the Wyndham Estate.

A battery energy storage site will also be created near the site, allowing the company to store surplus energy and sell it back to the National Grid at peak times.

Áine O’Connor, who lives in Watchet and represents numerous local residents in the area, said the community was “in shock” over the inspector’s ruling.

She said: “How is one person’s opinion allowed to override reports from professionals?

“There has been a total disregard of the local community, parish councils and Somerset Council’s views – and a total disregard for the government’s position regarding solar farms on the best and most versatile agricultural land.

“The inspector has chosen to disregard the tenants’ soil report and also the council independent soil report and has agreed with the appellant’s report.

“Somerset Council’s independent report clearly states the appellants report is not robust and fit for purpose. It failed to consider that no effort was made by the appellant to site the solar farm at the other available sites within the area (whether brownfield or lower grade).”

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published new guidelines on May 15, indicating that solar farms should not be built on the best and most versatile (BMV) agricultural land, citing a need to boost food production to improve food security.

Since these guidelines were issued after the Washford appeal process began, they could not be applied to that particularly inquiry – even if they was undisputed evidence surrounding the quality of the land in question.

David Bean, parliament and government relations manager for the Countryside Alliance, welcomed the news, stating: “Like the government, we think there is much greater scope for encouraging solar panels to be placed on existing and new industrial sites, to help ensure rural areas aren’t asked to bear a disproportionate burden in the move to a net-zero energy system.

“That transition can’t happen without continued public support.”

Dr June Armstrong – who lives near the solar farm site – added: “I oppose this proposed development on every level – not solar energy in the right place.

“The proposed site for this inflexible and unreliable renewable energy source, which is to be sited on prime quality agricultural land, will further erode precious agricultural land which we need for food, and also of itself helps to preserve and enhance our environment.

“This is an industrialisation of a landscape, which offers no employment.

“Solar power stations should be sited on brownfield sites first. This proposed development is not within the West Somerset Local Plan.”

The new Somerset Local Plan, which will come into force in early-2028, will examine all allocated sites for residential, commercial and other development in the former West Somerset area, and may include specific policies over solar farms and other energy infrastructure.

CPRE Somerset (also known as the Countryside Charity) also campaigned vociferously against the plans.

Chairman Hugh Williams said the decision amounted to “shooting ourselves in the foot” and called for a change in the law to make solar panels compulsory on all new housing developments.

He elaborated: “Our main concern with this decision in the beautiful Washford River valley is that other iconic Somerset landscapes are now highly vulnerable to be being hidden behind huge swathes of glass, metal and plastic.

“We should be putting solar on commercial rooftops, on canopies over car parks  and on all new-build housing, rather than shooting ourselves in the foot by trashing our finest landscapes in the name of climate change.”

The Parsonage Farm Action Group has also expressed their deep disappointment with the inspector’s decision, with group leader Lucy Corlett-Shaw saying it was “a sad moment for our community, the local environment, and farming”.

She added: “We used to have three farms surrounding our small tourist town; two of these now have planning or are being developed.

“Let’s hope common sense prevails, and planning isn’t granted for the third (Parsonage) Farm.”

A decision on plans to build 230 homes at Parsonage Farm on the southern edge of Watchet is expected to be taken by the council’s planning committee west (which handles major applications in the former Somerset West and Taunton area) by the end of the year.

Williton Parish Council and Watchet Town Council will be meeting with other parish councils in the coming weeks to “see if there is anything further we can do”.

Councillor Peter Payne, chairman of Williton Parish Council, told the West Somerset Free Press: “We were obviously extremely disgusted the solar farm was given permission on appeal.

“We will consider what other actions we can take, although what they will be, we do not know.”