Approval for green energy farm with 40,000 solar panels

Solar panel pic
Picture: sxc.hu / dynamix

A NEW solar farm will be built after Wokingham Borough Council’s planning committee approved the plans.

It will be built in land between Arborfield and Swallowfield and contain 40,000 solar panels could be installed on nearly 20 hectares of land. Under the plans, it would provide enough electricity to power 3,376 households.

It would have permission for 40 years electricity generation after which, the land would need to be cleared and returned to its previous state. 

The committee had considered the application at a meeting held on Wednesday, December 9, but had asked planning officers to investigate why the site had been chosen.

Concerns had been raised by residents who feared that the solar panels used would be visible from some distance away as they would be 2.4 metres in height.

The council’s climate emergency action plan has an objective to deliver five large solar farms by 2030.

Resident Harry Cannon raised alternative site: “I’ve heard from friends in the farming community that the council is giving noticeto tenant farmers to vacate land for the purpose of using it for solar,” he said, addingthat he hadn’t had time to investigate in detail.

“If this is the case, then I’ll clearly this is not the only site that’s available.

“My second point is on the additional drawings and information – we haven’t seen an elevation from the north. If we did, it would show for a 50 acreish almost site 50 feet tall. I still struggle to understand how you can hide that other than maybe a 50 foot hedge.”

Wessex Solar’s Richard Wearmouth also spoke, saying that the company had written to officers since the first meeting to address the committee’s concerns.

“Both our landscape architect and your landscape officer agree that this project has no unacceptable impact,” he said.

“Solar parks need to actually be able to connect to the grid, they need to be accessible from the road network, and they need a landowner who’s willing to accommodate the solar park on their land.

“After those extensive studies, and that systematic approach, though, that’s what led us to this site and the design that we’ve put forward.”

Swallowfield ward councillor Stuart Munro urged the committee to ensure that the site would have adequate hedgerow screening.

Cllr Gary Cowan, member for Arborfield, said: “Right idea, wrong place … there are other concerns which … need to be addressed, this is the first time this council had had to deal with a solar farm of this size and I recognise there is a very big learning curve for members and officers.”

Officers told the committee that the Wessex Solar had submitted a visual impact assessment and that while there would be “limited harm”it would not be unacceptable and where there were gaps in the field hedges, they would be replanted.

Cllr Andrew Mickelburgh said he had so many queries about the application, including alternative sights, issues with screening the farm and the height of the panels.

“A lot of faith seems to be placed on screening provided by hedgerows,” he said, asking for confirmation that full screening would be effective for all distant locations, “including homes, roads and footpaths”.

Officers said that the visual impact assessment was undertaken by a landscape architect, submitted with the application and very thorough, covering a number of visual viewpoints. They said that the gaps in the hedgerow would resolved to help with this.

Cllr Rachelle Shepherd-Dubey said that climate change is a lot uglier than a solar farm, while Cllr Stephen Conway said he was “very torn” about the application, as it supported the climate emergency action, but remained unconvinced that this was the right site and remained sceptical about the effectiveness of the landscaping.

Cllr Angus Ross said he shared the concerns that others have had over the suitability of the site.

The motion was carried by seven votes in favour, two against and one abstention.

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