The first public consultation on this massive infrastructure project closed a few days before Christmas. Whatever local people think of its pros and cons, I hope many responded: it could transform the landscape and views north of the A40.
It’s not an easy or straightforward issue. Renewable energy is clearly what we need, and Botley West Solar Farm promises lots of it. But you have to ask whether it is the best way of going about things. Is it worth the price to be paid in terms of lost food-producing land, disruption of biodiversity, degraded landscape and footpaths, and increased flood risk?
There are other ways of producing renewable energy, not least by putting solar panels on the roofs of the houses and business premises of Salt Cross Garden Village, and on the science park roofs, and as a canopy over the Park & Ride. We will have to wait and see what changes are made by the developer for the next round of consultation some time in the spring.
If the solar farm goes ahead as planned, the walk from Eynsham to Church Hanborough will suffer. Once you have left City Farm and crossed the brook, you will begin to see solar panels on your right, at first one field away. They will then appear on the left side too, until you are entirely enclosed by them on both sides. And when you reach the highest part of the walk, where the view stretches out eastwards to the Cassington-to-Bladon ridge, pretty much all you will see is Botley West, on both sides of Lower Road. In late 2021, I wrote a poem about this walk:
‘At Home on the Earth’
There is a pausing-place on the way up
where the traffic fades to an osmosis
of quiet, south-facing to a distant
dado rail of downs beyond a wainscot
of thickset woodland. It has potential
for a bench, sheltered by Enclosure’s hedge,
engraved “in loving memory” perhaps
of two “who enjoyed the view” in silence.
Sit down on that imaginary bench in the future, and your view will be solar panels.