CLA attacks farm minister on solar energy stance

A landowners’ group has hit back at claims that fields full of solar panels in Cornwall are ruining the countryside.

Farm minister George Eustice said solar panels were “trashing the countryside in Cornwall” during a speech at the Devon County Show last month.

However, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has accused the government of “playing politics” by encouraging solar as a renewable energy source while its ministers label it a blight on the countryside.

See also: Solar power shines in record year for renewables

CLA deputy president Ross Murray attacked Mr Eustice’s comments on solar energy generation when he spoke on the opening day of the Royal Cornwall Show on Thursday (4 June 2015).

George Eustice

Farm minister George Eustice said: “Solar panels are trashing the countryside in Cornwall”.

Mr Murray told farmers, landowners and guests assembled at the CLA Breakfast: “Landowners are investing in renewable energy because they have been encouraged to do so by local and national government policy, whether it is solar, geothermal or even wind power.

“In order to make these investments they must have confidence that policies are clear, consistent and long term.

“It is wholly wrong for politicians, like the farming minister, to play politics with this issue such as in recent statements on solar power.

“It is unacceptable for on the one hand government policy to promote investment in solar power and at the same time ministers to talk about stopping solar panels because they are trashing the countryside. We need a policy that gives businesses the ability to make plans.”

Mr Murray also set out a number of challenges that local and national politicians needed to meet in order to support rural business in Cornwall.

This included calls for better broadband and mobile phone coverage, more access to affordable housing and less interference from councils over the conversion of redundant agricultural buildings.

He told breakfast guests: “Now is the time for leaders locally and nationally to put an end to the disadvantages you face and see what more you can achieve without one hand tied behind your back.”

On the subject of tackling bovine TB, Mr Murray said now was the “time for moral courage” in the wake of Caffe Nero’s decision earlier this week to stop taking milk from farmers in the cull zone.

The CLA, which represents about 33,000 landowners in England and Wales, NFU and Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) had pledged to work as one in making the case for government to push on with its TB management plan, he added.

Through innovation and diversification, rural businesses in Cornwall have helped create 237,000 jobs, more than 9,000 apprenticeships and make a total annual contribution of more than £9bn to the national economy, Mr Murray said.