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Suffolk/Essex: Solar bid on prime farmland rejected

PUBLISHED: 08:37 01 May 2014 | UPDATED: 08:37 01 May 2014

Archant

Communities on the Suffolk and Essex border are celebrating after a controversial proposal to build a solar farm on 42 acres of prime agricultural land was refused by the district authority.

Parish councils in the villages of Foxearth, Liston, Pentlow, Belchamp St Paul and Belchamp Otten, just over the border from Sudbury, banded together to form a joint committee to campaign against solar farm applications from at least three different developers.

Their bid to stop up to 300 acres of Grade II arable land in the area from being swamped by solar panels attracted national attention, and local MP Brooks Newmark raised the issue in Parliament.

One of the biggest schemes, submitted to Braintree District Council by Sovereign Energy, was for a 42-acre solar farm at Big Deere Lodge Field between Pentlow and Belchamp St Paul. The scheme, intended to connect to the national grid via the Belchamp St Paul substation, was for around 25,000 solar panels capable of generating sufficient electricity for an estimated 2,275 homes.

Last October, the parish councils held a public meeting in Foxearth attended by more than 80 concerned parishioners ahead of a scheduled planning committee meeting to decide the fate of the proposal. But they have now been informed the application has been refused without going before the committee.

Officers were able to make the decision under delegated powers because the council received 79 letters against the scheme but none in support.

In the council’s refusal notice, officers said the proposed development involved the use of a greenfield site which is predominantly “Grade II and Grade IIIa” and therefore categorised as being “best and most versatile agricultural land.”

Last night district councillor Julian Finch – who has fought a long battle against the solar farms alongside the campaigners – said he was pleased they had won a reprieve, which he believes is due to new Government guidance relating to solar farms and agricultural land.

He said: “The Government has become a lot stricter on this matter, and that is why Braintree planning officers felt they had to refuse the application.

“Solar is an amazing idea if it’s in the right place but the new guidance could be the death knell for large scale solar farms on the best and most versatile agricultural land.”

Essex County Council leader David Finch, from Borley near Sudbury, said turning down the application was the right thing to do, but there was still an opportunity for the applicants to appeal.

“I am pleased with this first step but we need to make sure it is not going ahead in the future,” he said.

Sovereign Energy could appeal against the decision. Last night, no-one from the company was available to comment.

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