Solar farm plans refused by council
Charlie Ridler, Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: Uttlesford District Council
Part of a solar farm that would have powered more than 15,000 homes in Essex and Hertfordshire for 40 years has been blocked by a district council.
Uttlesford District Council voted to refuse its half of the farm on April 13, the site for which is roughly the size of 114 football pitches and falls across the Uttlesford and East Herts council district boundaries.
Supporters of the scheme expressed concern at the planning committee meeting that the council was putting views of fields above the climate emergency by rejecting solar farms.
However, since the vast majority of the site in the Wickham Hall Estate, northwest of Bishop’s Stortford, is in the green belt, the planning committee felt the proposals would harm the openness and character of the Wickham Hall Estate site.
Councillor Maggie Sutton (Residents for Uttlesford, Takeley) said at the meeting: “We all understand our responsibility to climate change here in Uttlesford, however, we need to develop all things in the right places.
“We have a very important green belt policy, much of this land falls within the green belt. In my opinion, the planning balance shows significant and demonstrable impact that outweighs the benefits.”
Councillors were also unhappy with the potential impact on highways, particularly the A120 which runs alongside the Farnham Road site.
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The Highways Authority formally objected to the application, saying it would result in intensified traffic to the “detriment of highway safety”, according to a council report.
Representing Endurance Energy Wickham Hall Limited, the applicant, Greg Hilton said: “The proposal does not contribute to unrestricted sprawl of built-up areas, it doesn’t contribute to merging adjacent towns, it doesn’t affect the setting of Bishop’s Stortford as it’s already next to a trunk road.
“It does not encroach on the countryside. Solar infrastructure sits low and well within the existing landscape framework.”
He also said the proposals included a 47 per cent net gain in biodiversity and that 10,000 new trees would be planted.
Uttlesford District Council declared a climate emergency in 2019.
According to council documents, the farm would generate up to 49.9 Megawatts of renewable energy, enough to power 15,200 homes and displace up to 23,000 tonnes of CO2 every year.
Stansted resident and local conservationist Daniel Brett said: “The committee has rejected solar farms in the past and I am concerned it is putting views of fields above the need to tackle the climate emergency.”
The scheme was also supported by the Bishop’s Stortford Climate Group.
Representing the group, Andrew Urquhart told the committee a sole reliance on individual houses and businesses installing their own solar panels is not sufficient in terms of scale or the speed of delivery to meet the national goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
He said: “Clearly this scheme takes some land, but in context it’s smaller than the combined area of local golf courses, which provide of course neither food security nor energy security.”
The farm would have a lifespan of 40 years, after which it would be decommissioned and the fields returned to their original use, according to the report.
Approximately 35 hectares lies within the Uttlesford district, with the remainder being in East Hertfordshire.
East Herts District Council is processing an application for its part of the site, but has not yet voted.