‘Intrusive’ solar energy scheme on top grade farmland rejected

HIGHLY DELIGHTED: Christine Garner looks out over land which could be at risk of a solar farm development in Pentlow.
HIGHLY DELIGHTED: Christine Garner looks out over land which could be at risk of a solar farm development in Pentlow.

The creation of a solar farm – made up of 25,000 panels on unspoilt countryside in Belchamp St Paul – has been turned down.

Sovereign Partners, an energy investment firm based in London, had earmarked Big Deere Lodge in Church Street as the site for the 42-acre development.

Following strong opposition to the scheme, which saw Braintree District Council receive 79 letters opposing the plans, and none in favour, the authority has taken the step of refusing the proposals before they were due to go before councillors.

In the planning decision notice, development manager Tessa Lambert said this conclusion was reached due to the site being deemed as the “best and most versatile agricultural land”.

She added: “The local planning authority does not accept that it has been demonstrated that there is a necessity for a large-scale solar farm development on this site.”

The farm, which the company claimed would provide enough energy for 1,700 homes, would have connected to the national grid via the Belchamp St Paul sub-station.

Although Sovereign Partners said it had consulted extensively with those living nearby, many residents claimed they had been left in the dark about the plans.

Terry McGuire, chairman of Belchamp St Paul and Belchamp Otten Parish Council, said the authority had “strongly resisted” the scheme, with members making their position clear in a letter to the district council.

“This application is for a development of a size and nature this community has not previously had to deal with,” read the letter.

“It would be a major intrusion into our rural landscape and is entirely opportunistic. No attempt has been made to justify such a site here.”

The letter added that the village was not against renewable energy schemes, but they needed to be in the right place, and this was not the case.

The decision to throw out the application, based on new government guidelines to restrict panels being placed on prime agricultural land, has given hope to those fighting similar solar energy schemes nearby.

In October, Foxearth and Liston, Belchamp St Paul and Belchamp Otten and Pentlow parish councils formed a joint committee to look into plans for three solar farms in the area.

At the time, as well as Big Deere Lodge, Push Energy was set to apply for permission to build 62,000 panels on 66 acres of land south of Bunting’s Farm in Pentlow, while TGC Renewables had created an outline proposal for 49 acres at Sheering Place in Belchamp St Paul.

Christine Garner, whose Bradfield Farm neighbours the proposed development in Pentlow, said she was “highly delighted” that the Big Deere Lodge application had been rejected.

“The new government rules could be useful as it could put a dent in the aspirations of these companies,” said Mrs Garner.