Solar farm application decision is deferred

Uttlesford District Council's offices in Saffron Walden. Picture: Will Durrant

Uttlesford District Council's offices in Saffron Walden. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

A decision over plans for a solar farm which would power over 13,000 homes has been delayed for a second time.

The planning committee at Uttlesford District Council voted to defer the application by Low Carbon Ltd for a 52-hectare solar farm near Cutlers Green and Thaxted, despite having already delayed it by six months.

More than 1,000 residents previously objected to the plans, which were deferred for the first time in January over lack of detail.

Committee members on Wednesday (June 22 ) said they felt the plans still did not contain enough detail regarding strategies for fire safety, wildlife mitigation and the protection of listed buildings.

Councillors and officers also said they needed more time to consider appeal decisions for similar applications for solar farms.

Several residents turned up to the meeting to plead with councillors to reject the plans, which they said could risk food security by removing productive farmland and cause damage to the local environment.

The applicant is arguing uncertainties in the energy industry mean it needs flexibility in terms of the permission it receives, under a planning principle called the Rochdale Envelope.

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Its application is for the maximum extent of the development, heights and number of buildings, which are likely to be less than what is being formally proposed.

James Hartley-Bond, head of project development at Low Carbon, said the government’s energy security strategy is seeking a national five-fold increase of solar deployment by 2035, in addition to wind and nuclear energy.

He said: “How many equivalent Cutler’s Green solar farm proposals are we talking about as a country?

“It’s actually 700 and that’s if we do just 50% of that deployment on land. The rest, the same equivalent, still has to be done on roofs.”

Low Carbon commissioned a report in February by environmental consultants which stated the UK was largely self-sufficient in its food supply, but less so for energy, meaning projects which would provide renewable energy should be considered higher priority.

But this was not enough to convince some councillors.

Councillor Barbara Light referenced an earlier claim by a resident that the equivalent of one million loaves of bread would be missing from the food supply should the solar farm be built.

She said: “I have to say that I absolutely agree with the need for solar farms in this country, but there is no compelling case in my view that’s been made by the applicant to select this area.”

Cllr Richard Freeman asked for the applicant to reconsider officers’ proposals for a 20,000-tree wood on the site to mitigate its impact on biodiversity.

Cllr Mark Lemon expressed “grave concerns” about the applicant’s offer of £20,000 to fund decommissioning the plant, which he said would decrease in value due to inflation over its 40-year life span.

According to council documents, Low Carbon said it would agree to a condition for no topsoil to be removed from the site as a result of development.

Cllr Melvin Caton said: “Two years ago when we made the decision on the solar farm on the other side of Thaxted, we were all very keen on net zero.

“I do think we cannot just go with the flow of current public opinion, we have got to be strategic with our decisions about renewable energy in the district.

He later said: “I’ll just flag that up as a concern, that we do need to be a little bit more strategic and a little less nimby in our discussion.”