December 6 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, September 19, 2013
A district council has explained why it allowed the number of panels on a Suffolk solar farm to increase by a quarter without referring the matter back to a planning committee.
Suffolk Coastal is currently considering an application to double the total of electrical power converters necessary to handle the extra 26,000 panels installed at the site in Great Glemham since it gained initial approval in March.
Green energy firm AGRenewables said it had made the revisions due to delays in the project programme and changes in funding, but that impact had been minimised through the reduction in overall area and height of the arrays.
A planning committee that had approved the project, after deferring twice, was not consulted on changes to the layout approved by the council in June.
The changes were instead considered to constitute “non-material amendments” as they would not result in any significant material difference to the original scheme.
Tom Harada, from AGRenewables (AGR), who has been working on the Great Glemham Solar Farm project, said it had been necessary to change funding, which in turn resulted in technical changes, the most significant being an increase from seven electricity inverters to 14 smaller units. Approval was also sought to make changes to the layout of the development, including an increase in capacity from 15 megawatts (MW) to 17.5MW, together with changes to the fence specification.
He added: “While there has been an increase in the capacity of the solar farm and number of panels, the overall footprint of the development has been reduced by approximately 5% and the height of the arrays are also lower than previously proposed (from 2.2m to 1.9m).
“Though necessary, the changes to the scheme have been guided by two important principals, firstly, to ensure that the overall impact of the development would be minimised as a result of the changes through the reduction in overall area and height of the arrays; and secondly, that the biodiversity and landscape management plan would remain unchanged.
“It is not uncommon for projects to evolve during transition from planning to delivery, requiring changes to the original planning consent, all of which have been discussed with the planning authority and local community throughout the process.
“Since consent AGR has been working together with Suffolk Wildlife Trust and the RSPB to ensure that the habitat enhancements proposed as part of the development will deliver real benefits and the native species wildflower meadow that will be established following the completion of construction will still be grazed by Great Glemham Farms’ award-winning organic flock, keeping the site as part of the agricultural productivity of the farm.”
The site is owned by Argus Hardy and divided by a County Wildlife Reserve, which Mr Hardy’s grandfather and father developed from the old Parham runway strip.
Mr Harada said: “The local benefits resulting from the revised scheme include, additional business rates for the local council, plus a rise in the community benefit fund, which is directly linked to the capacity of the scheme. Overall, as a result in the increase in the capacity, the solar farm will generate on an annual basis more low-carbon electricity to support the local economy.”
A spokesman for Suffolk Coastal said that a delegated report into the proposed revisions concluded that: “The proposed amendments are considered to constitute non-material amendments given that the effect of the proposed changes would not result in any significant material difference to the scheme as presented at the time of granting the original permission.”
He added that non-material amendments to existing planning permissions are permitted under the Town and Country Planning Act, and that as the changes were considered to be non-material, they did not need to be referred back to a planning committee.