Sheep-proof solar farm at Tilsworth approved despite green belt concerns

New scheme has been significantly reduced in overall scale since 2014 withdrawn project

Friday, 2nd July 2021, 3:29 pm

A sheep proof solar farm is set to be added to the growing number of renewable energy projects in part of Bedfordshire's Green Belt

A ground-mounted solar farm on 75 acres of agricultural land north of Stanbridge Road at Tilsworth is the latest to receive planning permission.

European Energy Photovoltaics Limited's application includes transformer stations, a temporary construction compound, a storage container for spare parts and two substation buildings.

The solar farm is being designed to accommodate the grazing of sheep. Photo: Jonathan Hutchins

The proposals represent inappropriate development in the Green Belt, according to a report to Central Bedfordshire Council's development management committee.

Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versallion called in the scheme over its potential impact on the landscape, the loss of amenity and because it would be overbearing.

It can export up to 15MW of power to the local grid network, which would generate sufficient clean renewable electricity on average to power about 5,500 homes, said the report.

Planning officer Tom Mead said: "The classification of the agricultural land is grade 3(b) which is not the best or most versatile.

"There was a previous application on the site for a solar farm in 2014 which was withdrawn. This proposal has been significantly reduced in overall scale.

"The significant benefits of the scheme through the production of renewable energy and the other environmental and biodiversity factors would outweigh the identified harm to the character of the area and the Green Belt. The site would be completely screened after 15 years."

EMEA field chief technology officer Adam Spearing said: "European Energy is a developer and owner of renewable energy assets globally.

"Our vision is to be a significant force in the global transition to a fossil fuel free society. We will use innovative sun tracking technology, so our panels will rotate to follow the movement of the sun, so we can extract maximum energy from it.

"A five-acre area will be left open for a new circular footpath, with woodland and orchard planting, a public viewing platform and wild flower meadows.

"There will also be about a mile of new bridleways on the public right of way network. All development will be temporary and reversible. The panels will be recycled."

Asked whether there would be sheep or cattle grazing on site as Natural England has warned about the risks, Mr Spearing replied: "We'll have a sheep proof solar farm.

"Generally you have to ensure your cables are adequately protected so the sheep can't chew on them. Our landowner has been in discussion with a supplier of sheep."

Independent Linslade councillor Victoria Harvey said: "I really wish we had an overall renewable energy strategy for Central Bedfordshire. We cannot wait. To preserve our landscape there's a huge urgency."

Independent Toddington councillor Mary Walsh agreed about the lack of a policy, saying: "That means we grab at things regardless of whether they're in the best place or achieving exactly what we want.

"It's damaging. We should be looking at where these things should go. It will be detrimental to the landscape. We have a queue waiting to connect to the substation at Sundon."

Independent Biggleswade South councillor Hayley Whitaker also urged the council to prepare a strategy for locating renewable energy resources, warning: "We're losing so much of our valuable space."

Tilsworth Parish Council was concerned about the environmental impact of the project on wildlife and its future, erosion of the Green Belt and the access.

Stanbridge Parish Council said the proposals would spoil the openness of the countryside, and regrets a full public consultation was impossible to organise because of Covid-19.

The development was approved with seven votes in favour, three against and three abstentions, subject to its referral to the Secretary of State for housing, communities and local government.