Residents have spoken of their fears about their area becoming "littered" with solar farms, turning open countryside into an industrial prison-like scene.

A solar farm and energy storage facility was proposed for agricultural land south of Gately Moor Reservoir, Redmarshall Road, Bishopton, to run for 40 years.

Harry Wilder from developer Darlington Solar 1 told councillors on Darlington Borough Council's planning committee: "It's a very small amount of land for a large amount of clean, renewable energy.

"The projects that we're building will help everyone, but they will also disadvantage potentially the few who are near them, and weighing up the impacts we have on the communities that host our projects is a crucial part of this process."

Mr Wilder said the Gately Moor solar farm scheme would provide jobs as well as £100,000 to local charities or community groups, though planning officers said this fund was not part of the committee's considerations.

He added: "Solar energy is a significantly cheaper than any other form of generation on the market. The more solar we have, the lower everybody's bills will become."

His agent Philip Smith, with the applicant, later said: "We're not saying electricity bills will come down."

He said the lower cost of solar energy would feed into what consumers would pay as reduced distributors' costs would "hopefully" be passed on.

He said the plan would help "keep the lights on", producing enough energy to the National Grid for 16,700 homes, helping tackle fuel poverty and saving about 25,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year.

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The plan - also to be considered by Stockton Borough Council - attracted seven letters of objection, with opposition from the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.

Objector Mark Smith said it was a "very large scheme" which would change the countryside.

He said: "I think we need to consider the fact of a huge number of other solar farms which have been planned within a four-mile radius of Bishopton village. At current count, there are 11 separate sites.

"I think some consideration must be given to the cumulative effect of all these sites together."

Another objector Nick Brown said: "It is an oversized development.

"There will be security fencing around the solar farm and CCTV monitors. This will create a prison effect on the area.

"The banks of solar panels... will also give the feeling of driving around an industrial estate.

"The area is actually going to become littered with solar farms."

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Philip Watson from Bishopton Parish Council said: "The development will have a huge visual impact on the village. The quantity of CCTV is excessive and intrusive.

"The conservation area needs protecting, as does the village's rural identity."

Objectors also raised issues of consultation and road safety.

Council planning officers recommended the scheme for approval, saying objectors' concerns had been balanced against the benefits.

Principal planning officer Lisa Hutchinson said: "This development would generate a significant amount of electricity from renewable sources.

"Although there would be some localised harm to the character, quality and distinctiveness of the local landscape, given that this is significant development in the open countryside... this wouldn't be substantial.

"Yes there will be impacts but with mitigation that can be reduced to an acceptable level."

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Cllr Cyndi Hughes said: "40 years in planning terms isn't really long but 40 years in the lives of residents is a long time, so we need to get this right.

"I'm worried that we're being led to a certain decision."

Cllr Gerald Lee said he was a fervent supporter of saving carbon emissions, but also conscious of food production, security and scarcity issues.

"We have to consider the immediate, which is climate," he said, suggesting the plan should be granted permission.

The vote was carried 9-2 to approve the solar farm with 20 conditions.

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