Plans for solar farm approved on land near Leighton Buzzard

Call for screening on agricultural site at Eggington to avoid ‘accidental urbanisation’ of Bedfordshire countryside
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Plans for a solar farm at Eggington have been approved but more trees and hedges at the site would help avoid “accidentally urbanising Bedfordshire’s countryside”, a meeting heard.

Applicant EcoSolar 3 Leighton Ltd submitted full plans to install a ground mounted solar photo voltaic panel development of up to 20 megawatts (MW) at Eggington.

The company’s application includes associated infrastructure and landscaping on 80 acres of land north of Leighton Road, according to a report to Central Bedfordshire Council’s development management committee.

Map showing plan for solar farm at EggingtonMap showing plan for solar farm at Eggington
Map showing plan for solar farm at Eggington

“The project would be sited on Grade 3b agricultural land, used to grow crops and graze cattle,” said the report. “It wouldn’t result in the loss of best and most versatile land.

“The operational time period is 40 years. Grid connection would be via an electricity pylon on the site.”

Senior planning officer Caroline Macrdechian said: “The site is within the greenbelt and the Greensand Ridge nature improvement area (NIA), with a solar farm to the east of site managed by a different operator.

“A control room, power station and customer cabin are part of the infrastructure. A new access would be provided from Leighton Road at an entrance to a field. There would be woodland and hedgerow planting.

“The proposal is inappropriate development in the greenbelt. There would be landscape harm. This is reduced by appropriate landscape mitigation.

“Significant weight is given to the production of renewable energy which would meet the electricity needs of more than 4,000 homes. This outweighs the harm.”

Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versallion told the committee: “This is the seventh solar farm in my ward in about a decade.

“It’s the accumulative effect and what some feel is the inadvertent accidental urbanisation of Bedfordshire’s countryside,” he warned. “It’s fine to have this, but can’t we screen it better? A hedgerow is only so high. I would ask you to consider trees.

“The neighbouring solar farm granted in 2015 was the first of those seven. We understand about the connectivity to the national grid in this part of the county. That makes it commercially viable, linking to national works.”

Environmental planner for the applicant, Beverley Bateman, explained: “At 20MW this is a relatively small project, but it would make an important contribution to carbon reduction targets.

“We identified the Leighton Vale site as potentially suitable from our early feasibility work and this has been confirmed through ongoing detailed site assessments.

“There are relatively few properties in the immediate vicinity. The scheme has been designed to allow sheep grazing to continue.

“A significant biodiversity net gain, increasing by 102 per cent, would result. There are 48 new trees, and screening can be increased if necessary.

“This area benefits from an on-site grid connection, which removes the need for off site cabling.”

Independent Leighton Linslade West councillor, Victoria Harvey, said: “I’m impressed by the screening and it’s exciting that energy is going into pylons, which will save endless roads being dug up.”

Councillors approved the development with eight votes in favour and one abstention, subject to any call-in by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

SOURCE: Central Bedfordshire Council development management committee (Feb 7th) meeting.