Solar farm near Leighton Buzzard approved, as developers also put their energy behind vision for electric buses

A solar energy farm near Leighton Buzzard will be part of “a groundbreaking UK project”, after being granted planning permission.

By Euan Duncan
Friday, 21st August 2020, 3:33 pm
Updated Friday, 21st August 2020, 4:45 pm

Checkley Wood Energy Limited is to install renewable energy equipment on nearly seven acres of land at Double Arches Quarry in Heath and Reach.

Planning case officer Andrew Cundy told councillors on Wednesday, a wind turbine is currently on the site, near the A5 Watling Street.

The scheme features 4,700 solar panels, and plans were submitted a week ago (Tuesday 18th) for the next phase of the development (a bus and electric vehicle charging station on the A5).

Checkley Wood Energy Ltd’s plan. Blue lines represent the solar farm, while the operating Double Arches wind turbine is represented by the grey circle, and the consented Checkley Wood wind turbine by the blue circle.

The applicant has confirmed that the power generated would benefit local homes, according to a report to Central Bedfordshire Council’s development management committee.

The proposals include installing a ground mounted solar array, inverter units, a transformer/switchgear enclosure, and a security fence and cameras, said the report.

Acting as planning adviser for the applicant, John Fairley, from the agent Engena Planning Limited, said the solar farm will be built on “partially restored” quarry land.

“This scheme contributes to the UK’s commitment for net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and addresses the planet emergency recognised by CBC’s climate change motion in 2019. The isolated and well-screened location ensures very limited visibility of the scheme from outside the site, and it results in very low harm to the Green Belt.”

Managing director of Checkley Wood Energy Limited Ian Foll said: “It’s my vision to use the energy from the solar farm and the turbine, linked to battery storage, direct to a bus and electric vehicle charging station on the A5.

“That’s an application we submitted last night. It will be a groundbreaking project supplying renewable energy direct to vehicles without losses in the grid, a UK first which could be the springboard for CBC’s sustainability strategy and the commitment for a zero carbon economy by 2030.

“We’ll enable the Leighton Linslade bus fleet to become zero carbon, powered solely by renewable electricity. This site could become an energy innovation zone. The Checkley turbine will be operational by January 2021 and the solar farm is an important component part. We’ll see electric buses running in Leighton Buzzard very soon.”

Asked about the energy innovation zone, he replied that it could be a catalyst “for employment, research and development in Central Bedfordshire”.

“It’s too early to say whether it will be a huge money spinner or a community infrastructure which makes best use of renewable energy,” he added.

Conservative Caddington councillor Kevin Collins referred to the 35-year lifespan for the project and the potential for a tariff, saying: “This could be reviewed going forward. It would be remiss of us to agree permission today that rules out any chance of revisiting that discussion in a few years’ time, when the ground rules might have changed.

“We could review the economics of it on a timely basis, and reconsider it if things change. I fully acknowledge the applicant can’t make a contribution at this time.”

The committee heard that a wild flower meadow landscape is proposed on part of the site when the area is eventually restored.

A vote to refuse the application was defeated 10-3, and it was then approved with ten votes in favour and three against.