Billericay green belt solar farm application rejected

A massive solar farm the size of approximately 62 football pitches would urbanise Billericay’s green belt land, the council has said.

Basildon Borough Council’s planning committee voted to refuse an application by Boom Power Ltd for a 44.22 Hectare solar farm in Crays Hall Farm, Billericay, at a meeting last night (November 30).

The farm would have provided enough electricity to power 10,900 homes, but would have “significantly urbanised” the land, according to a council report.

Representatives of the applicants and the Crays Hall Farm itself said it has become plagued with weeds and cannot survive as a business, and that using it for solar energy is also a chance to address the climate emergency.

Jack Spurway, Boom Power Ltd, said: “This temporary development represents an opportunity to help in part to address the most pressing challenges facing our society.”

He also noted the council has previously declared a climate emergency and is aiming for the borough to become net zero by 2050, and claimed the farm would pay £13m in tax and business rates over its 40-year lifespan.

Alex Smith, director at Century Ltd and the farm’s business advisor, said the farm has had to diversify to survive.

He said: “Historically the farm has been farmed with an arable rotation, but the weed burden has become intolerable, with herbicide-tolerant Ryegrass taking over which has led to where the business has become unviable.”

However, many committee members were unconvinced. Councillor Andrew Schrader (Con, Billericay East) said despite the national need for energy security, the proposals felt “opportunistic” and that the loss of green belt would be substantial.

He said: “I am reasonably supportive of renewables, I don’t believe that renewables alone are going to get us to the level of energy security and self sufficiency that we need and that’s why I’m dubious that things like massive solar farms present adequate justification for the sacrifice of green belt that we’re talking about.”

Councillor David Dadds (Con, Billericay East) said: “That is absolutely beautiful green belt land. I am absolutely shocked that there could be a proposal to destroy that.”

Parts of the proposed site are in Environment Agency flood zones two and three, the medium and high risk categories. However, panels in these areas would have been raised to 0.5m above the potential flood level.

Several other solar farms have been proposed for other parcels of land in the area, including in Outwood Farm.

Applications for solar farms in Barleylands and White Farm have been submitted but decisions on approval have not yet been made.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter