A massive 250MW solar farm covering three square miles of prime farmland near Selby, proposed by Macquarie Group, a ‘rapacious’ Australian investment bank known as the ‘vampire kangaroo’, has seen growing opposition from local campaigners.
A meeting at Camblesforth Hall on Sunday, organised by the campaign group HALT, saw residents put their case to Selby & Ainsty MP Nigel Adams. Opponents are concerned about the loss of productive farmland and the environmental impact of having nearly four square miles of fields around their homes covered with solar panels. They say Camblesforth residents would feel “imprisoned” inside a massive solar farm when they currently feel connected with the open countryside, despite having Drax power station close by.
Adams, who grew up close to the proposed site where the huge array, known as the Helios project, will be located, pledged to speak to parliamentary colleagues. He told residents:
“While we need more renewable energy we also need to grow our own food. It is of concern that so much of our best agricultural land could be lost from production in this way. We need to strike the right balance and I will be speaking about this with parliamentary colleagues.”Nigel Adams 22 January 2023
The Helios project, which is expected to be submitted to the National Infrastructure Planning Inspectorate later this year, is for 757 hectares of solar panels located between the villages of Camblesforth, West Bank, Hirst Courtney, Temple Hirst and Burn. A separate large battery store is proposed at Barlow.
A solar farm the size of 1,000 football pitches
A 300-acre 50MW solar farm near Camblesforth was approved last year with a planning application for a second larger array covering a further 400 acres submitted in August. The Helios site, if approved, will add a further 1,800 acres, equivalent to 1,000 football pitches making it one of the largest in the UK. The size and number of proposals are now a major concern to local residents.
Spokeswoman Lesley Marson, of the HALT Group, said after the meeting, “This was a very productive meeting and I am grateful that Nigel Adams was able to come to the village on a Saturday afternoon and meet with us. The discussion about the planning process was very helpful and gives us confidence going forward. I think that residents are beginning to realize that having so many solar farms surrounding our homes would totally change the character of the area and have a serious impact on our quality of life”.
The vampire kangaroo
The company behind the plans is Enso Green Holdings D Ltd, owned ultimately by Macquarie Group Ltd, based in Sydney, NSW. The firm became known as the vampire kangaroo after developing a reputation for buying utilities, loading them with debt and draining money out for shareholders.
Macquarie sold Thames Water in 2017 after a decade of ownership which saw corporate debt soar to £10bn and almost £3bn paid out in dividends. During that time the business contributed virtually no corporation tax to the British exchequer and was fined £20mn by the Environment Agency for polluting the Thames and other rivers with 1.9bn litres of untreated sewage in 2013 and 2014.
Judge Francis Sheridan at Aylesbury Crown Court, where the case was heard, accused the company of “inadequate investment, diabolical maintenance and poor management”.
In 2021, Macquarie bought Southern Water, an acquisition described by The Telegraph as “almost beyond parody” like asking an arsonist to put out a burning fire. An article by Ben Marlow, chief city commentator, said “uniting one of the world’s most rapacious banks with Britain’s worst water supplier, is a match made in hell for customers and the environment”.
More Macquarie acquisitions
The company does not seem to be embarrassed by its reputation. In December, Macquarie and British Columbia Investment Management agreed to buy a 60% stake in National Grid’s gas transmission and metering business.
When Macquarie took over Green Investment Bank in 2017, Vince Cable, a former business secretary in the coalition government, described Macquarie as being “notorious for short-term profitability at the expense of long term sustainability and is the worst kind of company to entrust with the Green Investment Bank”.
The Daily Mail‘s city editor, Alex Brummer, also expressed severe reservations about the bank going to Macquarie. Brummer warned the vampire kangaroo could not be trusted with a vital part of Britain’s infrastructure, with its generous dividends, minimal tax payments and “disappointing investment in the network.”
He also claimed that Macquarie was already engaged in forward planning to sell off the bank’s assets as soon as gaining control of them.