The widow of a farmer who once owned land now targeted as a site for a huge solar farm says her husband would be “turning in his grave” at the plans.
Rosemary Usborne, 91, who still lives close to the proposed Tomkins Farm development in Chailey, is challenging a claim by Hadstone Energy that the land is ‘low grade’.
Hadstone, which plans to cover 24 acres of land with the solar panels, has claimed the field has little value for food production.
But Mrs Usborne said: “It is perfectly good land for farming. It’s not the highest grade, but Hadstone’s own soil testing shows it is as good as the best in this area, and these fields are the best part of it, because they sit on rising ground.
“These London developers obviously don’t understand the countryside. They just dismiss it, and see it as a development site. I think James would be turning in his grave if he knew about this plan. So would all the people who used to work for him.”
When Mrs Usborne and her husband retired and sold the farm in 1987, Mr Usborne wrote a book on how farming had changed over the years since they came to the village after the Second World War.
In July 1967, The Argus ran a story on the farm, picturing Mr Usborne and his milk vending business.
Philip O’Conor, owner of the proposed solar farm land, said: “I have the utmost of respect for Mrs Usborne, and from what I know of her late husband, he worked hard and was always trying new farming methods. What Mrs Usborne says is absolutely true – the land probably was and is capable of producing up to three tons of cereal per acre.
“Unfortunately, anyone in farming now will know that this yield no longer makes for a viable business for a small arable farmer. Input costs are now substantially higher, machinery is larger and far more expensive.”
Philip Deeks of Hadstone Energy, added: “It is a real pity that a small group of people claim to want farming on these fields, but actually are not supporting Mr O’Connor’s local farm business.
“These people seem to have lost touch with the reality of the countryside.
“If Mr O’Connor can add a solar farm to his business, it actually keeps these fields viable for farming.
“The solar farm will have a benign, silent effect on its surroundings. Sheep will continue to graze very happily on these fields. Mr O’Connor will produce not just food but electricity as well for the local network.”
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Hadstone Energy announced this year it wants to install 20,000 solar panels on land in Tomkins Farm near Cinders Hill.
The 8MW plant could produce enough energy to power nearly 1,000 homes and comes in response to a government-led initiative to encourage the production of renewable energy through a Feed in Tariff (FiT).
Locals say the site is unique and “virtually unchanged since 1600” and the land, at Tomkins Farm near Cinder Hill, is viable for food production.
However, a spokesman for the energy company said the solar panels would have a “low and transient impact” on the land which has “already seen much change”.