Solar Farms and Battery Storage

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:53 pm on 8th June 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South 4:53 pm, 8th June 2022

Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Paisley, and it is a pleasure to serve under you as Chairman.

I thank James Gray for securing this debate and I obviously thank Mr Speaker for granting it. It is very timely, certainly for me and for my constituency, because we, too, have an application for a battery energy storage system in an area called the Duckery—hon. Members can imagine what it is like—in Chapel Lane. It is a beautiful part of Walsall South and has a large amount of green belt around it, with St Margaret’s Church, Great Barr, very nearby. Anesco Ltd put in a planning application on 6 December 2021: I always worry about applications that go in just before Christmas, which makes it really difficult for local residents to be consulted.

The hon. Member is absolutely right—he does have green credentials. I have served on the Environmental Audit Committee with him. In fact, I seem to remember he was arranging an expedition to the south pole. Sadly, I will not be able to take part because I am not on the Committee anymore, but I might join him anyway. Maybe another book will come out of that.

I am really pleased that the hon. Gentleman focused on the national planning policy framework, because that is key, as it says the green belt should be protected. That is why it is concerning that this battery energy storage system is going to be placed on green-belt land. The Black Country core strategy says that green-belt land should be protected, and the Walsall site allocation document reaffirms that. In the main Chamber at the moment, they are discussing the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. Notes on the Bill state that green-belt land will be made greener. We might think that means it will be protected, but we cannot be sure that will happen, which is why it is important the Minister gives us confirmation that green-belt land will be protected.

The area of Walsall South, near the Duckery, is grade 1 and grade 2 agricultural land. Previously, rapeseed oil was grown there. As Jim Shannon said, the Ukrainian war means we are short of sunflower oil and are looking to alternatives, which is why it is important that the area should be protected and not built on.

On 26 May, Anesco Ltd put in further documents looking at alternative sites. Let us look at those alternative sites. The planning officer from nearby Sandwell has said that the applicant should demonstrate why this development is necessary at the sensitive location of the Duckery on Chapel Lane, and why this proposal could not be adjacent to a substation power line on nearby land. There is a place called the Oldbury national grid substation, which could be used. It is near the national grid and that is where this facility should be placed.

My concern is that councils do not always take into account what is said and so I want a commitment from the Minister. A planning officer can make a recommendation in a report, and then the application goes through the cabinet or the planning committee, and they do not take local residents into account. I have suffered such a case for a site in my constituency, where 2,000 residents were against a particular site called Narrow Lane. We want a commitment from the Government and the Minister that they are committed to protecting the green belt. I ask the Minister to confirm that commitment, which is set out in the national planning policy framework, the Black Country core strategy and the site allocation document.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire also mentioned that there have been fires in battery energy storage systems in Australia and California. Has an assessment been done on the safety of these sites?

The bottom line is that my constituents do not want green-belt land to be built on. They want it preserved. The pandemic has shown, like never before, how they need green-belt land and that such areas need to be protected.