Chelmsford solar farm approved as carbon benefits ruled to outweigh green belt harm

A solar farm big enough to power more than 16,000 homes can go ahead after it was determined its environmental benefits outweighed harm to the green belt in Chelmsford.

Chelmsford City Council had refused the plans for a 49.9MW solar farm across three sites either side of the A130 and Canons Barn Road.

But while planning inspector Ben Plenty found that the Sandon Brook solar farm proposal would result in harm to the green belt, the array would only be in place for 40 years and would be removed after that.

Since the council’s refusal of the proposal in 2021, two nearby solar farms have received planning permission.

The ‘Canon Barns site’ is set to generate 8MW of electricity, and is within the green belt.

The ‘Hill Farm site’ northeast of the site is set to generate 36.7 MW of electricity and is adjacent to the green belt.

Mr Plenty added there is a distinction to be made between impact on landscape, which should be treated as a resource, and impact on visual amenity, which is the effect on people observing the development in places where it can be viewed, such as from roads, public rights of way and individual dwellings.

The approved Cannon Barns site was allowed in the green belt. The council found that the benefits of renewable energy would outweigh the harm to the openness of the green belt, the low level of ‘less than substantial’ harm to heritage assets and the modest harm to landscape character.

He added: “The proposed solar farm is substantially larger than the Canon Barns site, with clear contextual differences.

“Nevertheless, it is plainly evident that a larger site, such as the current proposal that may have a greater impact, would also deliver a greater level of power output thus making a greater contribution towards the production of renewable energy. This benefit weighs strongly in favour of the scheme.”

He said: “Accordingly, the public benefits of the proposal are of sufficient magnitude to outweigh the substantial harm found to the green belt and all other harm identified above. These benefits identified attract very substantial weight in favour of the scheme.

“In this context, the harm to the green belt would be clearly outweighed by the other considerations identified and therefore the very special circumstances necessary to justify the development exist. Accordingly, the proposal would satisfy the local and national green belt policies I have already outlined.”


Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter