Large solar farm near Leighton Buzzard approved despite harm to Green Belt
Wider benefits of renewable energy outweigh impact on countrywide
A solar farm approved near Leighton Buzzard will easily blend into the surrounding landscape, a meeting heard.
Chiltern Renewables Hockliffe Limited submitted full plans for 20MW solar PV electricity generation at Grounds Farm in Hockliffe.
The 93-acre site is in the Green Belt and consists of two agricultural fields graded 3b, with access to the A4012 Leighton Road to the south.
Planning officer Peter Vosper told Central Bedfordshire Council's development management committee on Wednesday: "The two fields are divided by the Clipstone Brook water course. Once in operation this site can be accessed for maintenance via Church Lane.
"The proposal would result in some harm to the landscape and the ambiance of the Green Belt in both spatial and visual terms.
"But the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy from a renewable source and a planned biodiversity net gain outweigh the harm to the Green Belt."
In a statement, Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versallion said: "My part of Bedfordshire has seen a concentration of solar farms.
"This is the sixth, in addition to two large wind turbines, all within the Green Belt. I'm not against renewables. All I'm doing is have the council think very carefully about the locations.
"You don't have to say 'yes' to every proposal just because it's green energy. There's also the green countryside to consider.
"This application has an issue because of its proximity to a residential property, something the five other solar farms in my ward haven't had to contend with.
"I'm hoping a compromise can be reached over the road for construction and maintenance, which is currently proposed against the residential boundary fence."
Hockliffe Parish Council supports the application, while no response was received from Eggington Parish Council.
Objector Craig Smith, who lives by the site, described it as as "a huge steel and glass structure", saying: "It would completely surround our property and totally obscure the views from our gardens and bedrooms.
"There are six other solar farms which surround us that you could throw a blanket over, with none of those being close to residential properties."
Senior director planning for the agent Pegasus Group Andrew Hodgson said: "It's recognised this is a large application in the Green Belt.
"That's why the applicant did a comprehensive public consultation process, and knows the importance of liaising with the local community.
"Meetings were held with the two parish councils before the application was submitted. I disagree with the CBC landscape officer, as we're confident this site is one of the best to accommodate into the surrounds.
"But we've agreed with the officer's findings to mitigate the landscaping impact.
"The letter of objection from Mr Smith came in quite late. His property is about 350m away from the equipment on the site.
"Vehicles using the track near his house will be much smaller, such as forklift trucks or trucks and trailers. It's a temporary access and will be removed."
Conservative Dunstable Watling councillor Nigel Young praised "the outstanding work" Mr Smith has done at Double Arches Farm, saying: "The landscape officer is always disappointed when a field isn't a field. But we must have more energy from renewable sources. It's got to be close to the grid.
"That means a significant number of PV farms are springing up in and around Leighton Buzzard and Hockliffe, with one further south in the Caddington area."
Independent Linslade councillor Victoria Harvey said: "We've a sustainability plan asking for renewable energy. We need to quadruple the amount of it in this country by 2035.
"With the screening and topography, this will be well screened and will blend into the landscape."
Councillors approved the development, with seven votes in favour and three against, subject to referral to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.