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Coupar Angus community outraged as ‘arrogant’ developer makes second bid to build giant solar farm

Renewables businessman Vickram Mirchandani pledges to "appease, compromise and cooperate" as he brings his controversial solar plans back to Perthshire.

Andrew Valentine, arms folded, looking cross in the centre of Coupar Angus
Coupar Angus solar farm objector Andrew Valentine says there is 'real anger' in the community. Image: Kim Cessford / DC Thomson.

A renewables developer is back with a second attempt to build a solar farm beside Coupar Angus, despite being branded “arrogant” when failing to win planning permission previously.

Developer Vickram Mirchandani will be resubmitting a planning application to build the controversial solar farm. If built, the farm will measure roughly the same size as the Perthshire town itself.

Councillors previously accused developer Mr Mirchandani of holding “contempt” for the people of Coupar Angus as they threw out his application for planning permission.

But the controversial renewables boss has promised in an interview with The Courier to “appease, compromise and cooperate” as he seeks to win approval for the massive project.

While those opposed to the solar farm have referred to the project as a solar “black death”, Mr Mirchandani points towards the huge need for renewable energy in Scotland and support for solar among the population at large.

But many people in Coupar Angus remain fiercely opposed to his plan.

Coupar Angus group plotting ‘aggressive defence’

Andrew Valentine is a member of Sore (Save Our Rural Environment), the campaigning group fighting the development.

He is “angry” and “disappointed” the developers are making another attempt.

He said Mr Mirchandani gave a “very bad presentation” when addressing the planning committee previously.

 “Mr Mirchandani was confusing Blairgowrie with Coupar Angus. It was that bad.”

Andrew Valentine at Strathmore Community Hub in Coupar Angus where Coupar Two held a consultation on the solar farm. Image: Kim Cessford / DC Thomson

Andrew said he is planning a “much more aggressive defence” against the solar farm proposal this time round.

He said the application is only “slightly revised”.

He explained: “They have reduced the size of the area taken up [by the solar project] by around 15%, but it is still a vast area.

“It is just so vast, and badly placed. It just dwarfs the area coming into Coupar Angus.

“I am pro-solar farms in principle,” he said, “but this particular farm is so in your face.”

Chris Button is the founder of Sore.

“Is this a joke?” He asked.

Chris pointed to the 150 objections to the previous solar farm application.

“What justification do they have to resubmit? It’s like a battle that we’re fighting.

“But we will fight it, we will do what we did before.”

Why did councillors call developer ‘arrogant’ and ‘condescending’?

Tensions between the developer and campaigners came to a head during a meeting of the Perth and Kinross Planning and Placemaking Committee in February 2023 to rule on the application.

Perth and Kinross council’s planning officers had recommended councillors refuse the bid.

Mr Mirchandani, who joined the call with voice but no video, said: “My purpose today is to ask you to overturn your officers’ recommendations.

“Maybe at this point you’re thinking I’m bonkers, and it will never happen, but I ask you to be open minded.”

Mr Mirchandani went on to dismiss local people’s concerns over the consultation process, the visual impact of the project on Coupar Angus and over his failure to commit any profits towards local community causes.

Strathtay Conservative councillor Ian James said: “This is the most arrogant and condescending deputation I have ever heard.”

Members of the committee voted to refuse the application.

What is different about the revised solar farm plan?

Paul Phillips is the director of environmental consultants Envams. Mirchandani’s firm Coupar Two brought the consultancy on in March this year after his previous bid failed.

Paul and his colleague, Cameron McAllister, met with the community during the project’s first in-person consultation on July 20.

He said: “We looked at the reasons for refusal and thought, what do we need to do to address those reasons? Such that we think if we put it in front of them [the council], they won’t make the decision again.

Paul Phillips and Cameron McAllister, with environmental consultants, Envams. Image: Kim Cessford / DC Thomson.

“The main changes that we’ve made with this revised application are the removal of solar panels and associated infrastructure on two of the fields, and the relocation of the small onsite substation which collects all the electricity from the solar panels.”

The location of the onsite substation previously raised flooding concerns from the council’s planning department.

Paul also highlighted the community benefit fund of £25,000 per year of operation that Mr Mirchandani has offered.

Mr Mirchandani defends his revised proposal and says he is willing to listen

We spoke to Mr Mirchandani on the phone the day after the public consultation event in Coupar Angus. He had been unable to attend the event due to previous commitments.

He said he was surprised when Perth planning officials appeared to change their mind about his project. He said he had initially been told experts would recommend councillors approved the plan.

“I was forced into a situation where I had to debate each and every issue with the planning committee,” he said.

When asked why councillors dubbed him “arrogant”, Mr Mirchandani said: “I guess they felt challenged.

“I debated the issue. Yes, it didn’t go down so well.

“But I think the reason it didn’t go down so well, is they realised there is a debate to be had, and potentially this is a suitable site.”

The community of Coupar Angus have concerns that the solar farm, approximately the same size as the town itself, will have a visual impact.

Members of the Save our Rural Environment group at the field next to Coupar Angus.
Members of the Save our Rural Environment group near Coupar Angus earlier this year. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DCThomson

Mr Mirchandani said: “In my view, this is the best site for a solar farm in the nation.

“It’s very easy to say: ‘oh my gosh, it’s going to ruin the whole area, it’s terrible. Well, the fact is, landscapes are given protection criteria, right. That is why the national parks exist, because you can’t build anything in there.

“Here, you’re in an unprotected landscape. And there’s a reason it’s unprotected. It doesn’t fulfil the criteria of the Cotswolds or, you know, the Northumberland National Park, it just doesn’t.

“Of course there’s going to be a landscape impact, of course some views are going to be impacted. The question is, are you willing to give a little to gain renewable energy?”

Coupar Angus locals ‘riled into a feeding frenzy’ need to ‘compromise’

He called on local people to “compromise”, as he has done with his revised plan,

“If you want renewable energy, there have to be certain compromises made. What I’ve always found in my life, more people are for renewable energy than against.

“Another thing that I’ve realised in this business is that the opposition scream the loudest. But I fully believe in my heart that the public supports renewable energy.

“But if you’re against something, it’s very easy to get excited and rile each other up into a feeding frenzy and start an opposition movement.”

“I have tried my best to listen, to A, the people and B, the planning committee. I have gone over and above to appease, compromise and cooperate.

“I just hope this time round, the planning committee can see the benefits of renewable energy.”

A Perth and Kinross council spokesperson said: “The council will consider all planning applications in line with national and local policy and guidance, and will determine them accordingly.”

PKC planning officials had previously said Mr Mirchandani’s bid was likely to be approved, she added, but changed the advice later in the process

This is “common practice,” she added.