An MP has warned in Parliament of the consequences of major solar farm developments, saying they would leave a “scar on the countryside”.

Matt Vickers, Conservative MP for Stockton South, raised the issue of the Byers Gill solar farm plans, a major proposed development stretching across agricultural and arable land between Stockton and Darlington. Developer JBM Solar says the farm would provide enough low-carbon energy to meet the equivalent annual needs of over 70,000 homes.

The Planning Inspectorate will decide whether or not to accept the application for a development consent order to move on to the next stage. Speaking in the House of Commons this week, Mr Vickers said it neighboured other solar farm sites, “meaning that the cumulative impact on this beautiful rural community will be almost 2,500 acres”, which he argued would transform the area and damage people’s quality of life.

He said: “The plethora of solar farms snake through and encircle some of the most beautiful rural villages in the region – and, in fact, the country. Villages, farms and even a local primary school are merely metres away from some parts of those sites, but it is not only villagers and farmers who will be impacted. The area is inhabited by a rich tapestry of wildlife and biodiversity.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Stockton South MP Matt Vickers

He told how a resident shared the list of species visiting the land: “A 2,500-acre scar on that countryside will undoubtedly affect those animals, their habitat and their food chain, and this resident is rightly devastated… Where now people drive along country roads and look on to beautiful rolling fields, those views will be replaced by miles of seven-foot-high fences to prevent the movements of deer.”

He said residents who had lived in the villages and farmed the fields for generations had shared their “huge concerns about the impact that a development of this scale will have on their community. They understand the need to improve our energy security and the move to renewables, but the sheer cumulative scale of the solar farms densely packed into this small rural community will change it completely. An area characterised by rurality, nature and agriculture looks set to become characterised by industry, panels and battery substations.”

He said food security was also a huge challenge, with farmers being approached by developers and having to make difficult decisions: “Our Great British farmers are the stewards of our countryside, who care for our natural environment and put food on our plates. We must back them, so that they can carry on doing that.

“We are talking about prime agricultural land,” he added, saying he agreed with the words of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that “we will not lose swathes of our best farmland to solar farms. Instead, we should be making sure that solar panels are installed on commercial buildings, on sheds and on properties.”

Mr Vickers told MPs: “I hope that the Planning Inspectorate will ensure that a robust and independent grading of this land takes place, so that it is given fair consideration, and ultimately protected for generations of farmers to come. At present there are more solar farms pending approval than the National Grid could hope to service. Let us ensure that we develop solar farms that are proportionate and rightly placed.”

He also raised the consequences for country roads suffering flooding problems, the dangers of battery storage systems and residents’ worries about putting them near homes and schools. He paid tribute to residents who had brought together the Bishopton Villages Action Group: “They have shown how amazing the power of community can be and what it can achieve.”

Paul Howell, Conservative MP for Sedgefield, said “consultation must be real” on the proposed farm covering over 1,200 acres between Bishopton and Brafferton. He said he would be speaking to the developers in the coming weeks and urged them to “get on top of their game” in communicating with his constituents.

He added: “Farming economics are pushing farmers to accept solar farms on their land when they may prefer to keep farming. It is imperative that this country develops our food resilience, and it is critical that we are robust in our assessment of the land that could be used for solar to ensure that it is not consuming good farming land.

“It is of real value to our rural communities that their character is maintained. We need to ensure that the multiplicity of schemes in an area are jointly assessed to be certain that planning creep does not overwhelm that area. As I said, the possibility of more than 2,000 acres being covered in such a small and concentrated area is surely not reasonable.

“It is important for the long-term resilience and value of our rural communities that they do not effectively turn into large industrial parks destroying our green and pleasant land. I support solar – it is one of the green power sources that we must develop in the right place – but it cannot be at the expense of the rural community’s way of life.”

Energy minister Amanda Solloway outlined the planning process for large solar projects, saying: “I am unable to comment on the specifics of the proposal. Byers Gill is considered a nationally significant infrastructure project, as defined in the Planning Act 2008, and any application would be determined by the Secretary of State.”

Michael Baker, project manager for Byers Gill Solar said: “We understand the significance of Byers Gill Solar Farm and the strength of feeling locally. RWE is committed to robust public engagement across all our projects. We have been proactively engaging with the local community since November 2022, and have made substantial changes and improvements to the scheme based on the feedback received.”