Large solar farm approved near Felsted

Willows Green Farm

The proposed site for the new solar farm - Credit: DLP Planning.

A solar farm the size of approximately 1,140 Olympic swimming pools has been given permission to be built near Felsted.

Uttlesford District Council’s planning committee approved plans by Clearstone Energy Ltd for a 114 hectare solar farm east of School Lane, between the villages of Felsted and Great Notley, this morning (August 3).

According to a council report, the farm would provide enough clean electricity to power 15,200 homes or 26,000 electric cars.

But the council is seeking further assurances over guarantees it will be decommissioned after 40 years and how much this will cost, via a series of planning agreements.

A section 106 agreement, which is a tax levied by local councils on developers to mitigate the impact of their proposals, a decommissioning agreement and an ecological management plan will have to be negotiated and returned to the committee, who will then have the final say.

Concerns were also raised at this morning’s meeting over potential harm to three local listed buildings, as well as the farm’s impact on the landscape and a resultant loss of agricultural land.

Digby Willoughby, development manager at Clearstone Energy, told the committee there is a “growing sense of urgency” to confront the climate emergency.

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He said: “We face a climate emergency that requires low carbon power, a cost of living crisis which requires affordable power, we have a war in Ukraine which has reinforced the need to secure domestic power.”

Several committee members raised concerns over the proposed 40 year lifespan of the farm and questioned whether this would change if the land was sold to another owner during this time.

Responding to questions, the council’s development manager Nigel Brown said it is unknown at this stage how much decommissioning would cost.

Councillor Richard Pavitt (Uttlesford Independent, Littlebury, Chesterford and Wenden Lofts) proposed the solar farm should be approved, subject to the agreements returning to the committee, which would include an estimated cost for decommissioning.

He said: “We really do need to ensure that this agreement we’re going to be creating is really belt and braces, not just in terms of all this business about landowners and so forth, but actually the monetary value, to make sure that it is truly realistic.”

He later said he had “misgivings about the scale” of the farm, but that the site was appropriate and the council had made commitments on climate change.

Uttlesford District Council declared a climate emergency in 2019.

However, other councillors criticised the proposals. Councillor Geoff Bagnall (Residents for Uttlesford, Takeley) said he thought the benefits of a solar farm in the site would not outweigh the harm caused to three nearby listed buildings, and by the temporary loss of 114Ha of productive farmland.

He said: “In my view, I think the decommissioning, if I’m being honest, is a bit of a side issue. I think the key issue for us is about the loss of this agricultural land and the impact on listed buildings.”

The planning agreements are expected to return to the committee in at least six months.