A countryside charity says it is a “blow to local democracy” that a huge solar farm in Mid Devon has been given the green light after planning permission was initially refused.

Mid Devon District Council rejected JBM Solar’s application for Langford near Cullompton earlier this year after it attracted more than 150 objections from the public, with concerns it would harm food production, ruin the landscape and be too big, writes Local Democracy Reporter Ollie Heptinstall.

But this week the government overturned the decision following an inquiry led by the Planning Inspectorate, ruling there is “strong national and local policy support” in favour of the scheme with the production of electricity adding “significant weight in favour of the proposal.”

At approximately 61 hectares and over a mile long, the plant will be bigger than 70 football pitches and larger than Vatican City.

The £40 million development will occupy agricultural land to the east and north-east of the village of Langford, producing enough energy to power around 10,000 homes a year.

It will have an export capacity of 50 megawatts, cutting approximately 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year of its 40-year life span. After this time, the farm is planned to return to agricultural use.

However, the Devon branch of countryside protection charity CPRE has slammed the decision. It fought the applicant’s appeal alone after the district council took legal advice and decided against defending its original ruling.

Director Penny Mills said: “You couldn’t make it up! It seems to us that when it comes to these massive solar applications, all sense of local democracy goes out of the window.

“We knew it would be incredibly difficult once the local planning authority decided not to defend at appeal its own planning committee’s decision to refuse the application. We were left on our own fighting for our countryside and for the local people. This outcome is not the Christmas present we were hoping for.”

She added: “The secretary of state doesn’t live near the site, nor do the appeal inspector and the developers. Yet these major developments are being foisted onto our communities against their wishes.

“Local people objected with valid planning reasons. We backed them up at the public inquiry, fighting on our own. Sadly, to no avail.”

In a statement reported by the BBC, JBM Solar, said: “On the back of a year of record high energy prices which has fuelled a discussion on energy security, as well as a cost-of-living crisis, there is a role for solar to deliver clean and affordable energy to UK communities.

“This site will deliver tangible benefits by the end of 2024, powering the equivalent electricity needs of over 10,000 homes annually, helping to keep the lights on and people warm that winter.”

The Langford appeal decision comes just a week after East Devon District Council’s planning committee debated plans for a new solar farm at Marsh Green, near Exeter. Following a discussion lasting almost three hours, it voted to visit the site.