PLANS FOR a solar farm in Arborfield have been hotly contested by residents for encroaching on the countryside.
In March, Wessex Solar Energy submitted an application for 40,000 solar panels on Farley Farms Estate, off Swallowfield Road.
The proposal attracted more than 100 comments from nearby residents, Swallowfield Parish Council and Arborfield and Newland Parish Council.
Plans include 11 cabins, a control building, vehicle access roads and fences to surround the development.
Initially, Swallowfield Parish Council said it did not have any comments. Seven days later, it objected on several grounds including intrusion on the countryside, flood risk and building on high quality farmland.
The parish council said: “This application proposes an industrial site on hugely visually important countryside to the residents of Farley Hill.
“These fields are the gateway to the village and have huge visual amenity; they also provide the green gap between the villages of Farley Hill and Arborfield Cross.
“Rural heritage is as important as the environmental arguments for renewable energy.”
The parish council also said the site is prone to flooding, making it unsuitable for a large electrical installation.
But Wessex Solar Energy have rejected many of these claims.
It said the solar park is not permanent, and once decommissioned in 40 years time, could then be used for arable or pasture land.
A spokesperson for the company said: “During the operation of the solar park, the land will be effectively regeneratively farmed. It will be sown as pasture for grazing by sheep, with appropriate native wildflowers also included within the seeding mix. This is a preferred method of management for biodiversity improvements used by the National Trust.”
They also said that any seasonal surface water flooding on the site “would not be detrimental to the continued operation of the solar park”.
Arborfield and Newland Parish Council said that while it supports renewable energy in principle, the council feels that other sites locally could be more suitable.
One Arborfield resident suggested the park was built on Tanners Dairy, a brownfield site in Farley Hill.
He said: “The site is also owned by Farley Farms Farley Estate and situated less than 500 metres from the proposed site.
“Tanners Dairy already has planning permission for three houses and is set off the Swallowfield Road where an infrastructure already exists.”
There is concern over the environmental impact of the site, and Arborfield and Newland Parish Council has asked for trees, hedgerows, byways and bridleways to all be protected, along with a guarantee the land will be restored in 40 years time.
One Farley Hill resident said that building the solar farm would betray local people.
He said: “When you consider the other hugely disruptive development work that has been, and is being, undertaken in the local area, including the Arborfield Relief Road and a significant number of housing developments of all sizes, the addition of this appalling development to the local landscape is nothing more than a betrayal of the local people, a ludicrous error of judgment and a total failure of due process.
“This is agricultural land, and we should fight to retain this precious resource, and not simply give in to the demands of a single-minded profiteer.”
The consultation ended in May, but the solar farm has not yet gone to the planning committee.