I made a submission as part of the public consultation on the Development Application for the proposed solar farm at Uriarra Village. You can read my submission in full below.
To Whom It May Concern
I am writing in relation to Development Application 201425695 for a rural solar facility lease variation to allow a solar farm to be built on Block 76 at Coree, adjacent to the Uriarra Village.
The site of the proposed development is within my electorate of Canberra, as is the adjacent Uriarra Village.
I first became aware of this development in August last year when residents of Uriarra Village contacted me to express their concerns about the impact of the development on the village, and the level and tone of the public consultation that was occurring. I visited the site of the proposed development on 5 and 17 November last year to speak to the residents and to assess first-hand how the development would impact the village.
Subsequent to these visits and discussions, I have formed a firm view that the visual impact of this development on the village will be significant, and will detrimentally alter the character and appeal of the village.
The initial complaint that was brought to my attention was the fact that there was no consultation with the residents of Uriarra prior to the feed in tariff being awarded based on this particular site.
Residents felt that the two meetings that were held with the developer following the announcement of the feed in tariff were more informative than consultative, i.e. they felt that the developer was not prepared to take on board the concerns of residents, but was just there to inform them about the process.
It should have been obvious to any developer that a development of this scale at such close proximity to a rural village would be contentious, and should therefore be handled with the utmost sensitivity and tact, incorporating a comprehensive consultation process. It is clear that this has not occurred in the case of this development.
Following the destruction of large parts of the Uriarra Village in the 2003 bushfires, the village was rebuilt within the constraints outlined in the Uriarra Village Concept Plan Report, the Development Control Plan and the Lease and Development Conditions.
These constraints were put in place to ensure that “the character of the built form will be distinctly rural” and to recognise “the need to preserve the rural and historic nature of the village” (Uriarra Village Concept Plan Report – 2007).
The constraints included specific requirements around the design and construction of the homes in the village. One such requirement is that the houses are solar passive in design. As such, many of the houses are north facing. This enables both optimum solar orientation, and for the houses to take advantage of the expansive views of rural landscapes to the north.
The proposed development is to the north of the village, and will therefore be in the direct sight of these north-facing houses.
The topography of the village also means that the visual impact will be significant. The village is built into the side of a hill, and is therefore elevated above the site of the proposed development.
The developer proposes a 20-30 metre buffer of trees along Brindabella Road to limit the visual impact of the solar farm on the village. This presents a number of issues. First, given the elevated nature of the village, it is unlikely, if not impossible, that the trees will be tall enough to screen the entire solar farm from view, meaning the visual impact will remain. Second, in partially screening the view of the solar farm, these trees will also screen out the expansive rural views to the north of the village, which are the very reason many residents chose to live in the village.
The rebuilding of Uriarra Village following the devastation of the 2003 bushfires has been done under strict constraints to preserve the rural nature of the village, often at a substantially increased cost to the homeowners. The development of what is defined as a “Major Utility Installation” under the Territory Plan at such close proximity to the village, and in direct sight of many of the houses in the village, will significantly detract from the rural nature that was preserved in the rebuild.
While at this point we cannot know for certain whether or not the development will result in the loss of land value for Uriarra residents, I can appreciate why the residents believe this is a real possibility. It is the views and rural ambience that attracts buyers to the village. The development as it is currently proposed will detract from both the views and the ambience, and I believe is likely to result in declining interest in living in the village.
I support the ACT Government’s sustainable energy and climate change policies, and in particular I support the ambitious target of the ACT having 90 per cent of our electricity sourced from renewable energy by 2020. Therefore, I would like to see this development proceed, but at a greater distance from the village. The impact of this development in its current form on the residents of Uriarra Village is too great.
I note that the proposed development has an area of approximately 27ha, while the whole of Block 76 has a much larger area of approximately 392ha. It would therefore be possible to keep the development located within Block 76, but move it further away from the village.
Most of the Uriarra residents I have spoken to would support the development going ahead within Block 76 at a greater distance from the village. Some have suggested 500 metres from the village would be appropriate. At this distance, the development would still be in the sight of many houses, but would not block the view of the rural landscape to the north, as the development as it is currently proposed would.
I acknowledge that in this application the developer has moved the site approximately 30 metres further away from the village than was originally proposed, however at this distance the visual impact will still be great.
I note that the Visual Impact Statement was developed without having assessed the aspect from the village itself. This represents a gross failure on behalf of the developer in its consultations with the residents of Uriarra. The development should not be approved in any form until this has been completed.
Thank you for considering my feedback. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can provide any additional information or be of further assistance.
Gai Brodtmann MP
Member for Canberra
1 August 2014