Cornwall Council’s ruling Conservative group has seen its majority slashed to just three after a leading councillor resigned following a contentious decision to allow the building of a huge solar farm on agricultural land.

Steve Arthur, who represents Perranporth, said the decision by the council’s strategic planning committee last week to allow the solar farm to be built on 33 fields near Summercourt was the final straw.

The beef farmer, who was elected to Cornwall Council in 2021, said of the winning Conservative group: “I came in a bit green and thought we’ve got the balance of power for the first time and we’ve done f*** all with it to be honest. You can quote that.”

Falmouth Packet: Cornwall councillor Stve Arthur has resigned from the ruling Conservative group at the authorityCornwall councillor Stve Arthur has resigned from the ruling Conservative group at the authority (Image: Steve Arthur)

He said he was already facing pressure to rejoin the group, “but I’m not coming back”. Of his decision to resign, Cllr Arthur added: “I’m a farmer, so to see good farmland covered in solar panels … I’m not against renewables per se but roofs and lower grade land should be used.

There’s another planning application for a solar farm coming up – another councillor has said he is going to leave if it goes through. He’s written to Linda [Taylor, leader of the Tory group and Cornwall Council leader] and she knew I would go too if this application was approved.

“3b land is up for grabs in the planning policy, but 3b land in Cornwall can still be double cropped because of the climate. This green agenda is okay but not at the expense of farmland. Put a subsidy on people’s roofs and let the tenants have a bit of cheaper electricity.” He added: “Today’s energy crisis is tomorrow’s food crisis.”

Cllr Arthur said he also had problems with other decisions made by the council and its Tory cabinet in recent months. “The school transport thing would have been massive for me – trying to save £60,000 to make kids walk to school, but that’s been shelved now because they realised they weren’t going to get it over the line,” he said, while also questioning “top-heavy” management at the council.

He was critical of the ultimately unsuccessful level two devolution proposal earlier this year, which featured a government requirement for a Mayor of Cornwall. “I said from the very beginning, I’m not voting for it, Cornwall doesn’t need a mayor. It’s a unitary authority anyway. I told them they didn’t have the numbers (of support). They keep having to back down. If they listened to people like me, who advise them, they wouldn’t have to backtrack so much.”

Cllr Arthur, who has never claimed expenses, has discovered he has now been taken off all the committees he sat on. “They’ll be pleased there’s a thorn out of their side on the audit committee.”

He stressed that he couldn’t fault any other councillors, no matter which party they represented, as he believed they all have the best interests of Cornwall at heart.

Of the Conservative group, he said: “We’ll look back on the time we’ve been in power and think, what have we actually changed? The best thing we’ve probably done is try to balance the budget.

“They’re trying to save 60 grand on the school transport routes but the next thing is they’re employing someone for a role to teach people leadership, which with a pension is 60 grand. What’s that all about?”

There are rumours that around three other Conservative councillors are teetering on the brink. “There are a lot like me,” said Cllr Arthur. “Linda Taylor’s got to listen to the grassroots. When it comes to the Conservative tree, she’s looking at the canopy but not looking at the roots below which aren’t very well to be honest. She does like to pander to Westminster a bit – but Cornwall’s a bit different to everyone else, isn’t it?”

Cllr Taylor has been contacted for a comment.