Critics claim massive Chelmsford solar farm will threaten food security

Plans to create the UK’s largest solar array spanning around 1,000 acres on land near Chelmsford could threaten food security , the city council has been warned.

Longfield Solar Farm – a scheme made of a huge array of solar panels and battery storage on land north east of Chelmsford and north of the A12 between Boreham and Hatfield Peverel – would be capable of generating 50MW. This is the electricity needs of up to 67,000 households.

Joint partners EDF Renewables UK and Padero Solar say the project will help the UK to meet its ambitious targets to source low carbon, renewable energy generation. There is currently around 8GW of grid scale solar capacity in the UK and this project aims to help increase the country’s goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Located on around 380 hectares of land, the proposal is classified as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) as it would export 50MW or more of electricity.

At this stage, it is expected to generate around 350MW from solar energy. This means development consent is needed from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

But the plans have come under stinging attack – not least from the former principal of Writtle College who says that losing so much high quality agricultural land would not just damage biodiversity, but remove high quality farming land capable of producing thousands of tonnes of grain.

Professor Mike Alder said: “Longfield Farm is a site of grade two importance – the best and most versatile land and as such must be maintained in my view for food production.

“By 10 years time we could well be importing 50 per cent of our food as we gradually lose more and more farmland and as the adult population grows.

“Therefore food security is vital for the UK and must feature in our policies.

“On top of that there is a biodiversity effect. Such sites could well have an adverse effect if they are put under solar panels.

“It would be a mistake to grant approval where the outcome in 10 years’ time proves to be a biodiversity disaster.”

Mike Mackrory, cabinet member at Chelmsford City Council, said the council recognised the importance of renewable energy sources, so long as there are no serious impact.

Cllr Mackrory said: “As such the city council supports the principle of renewable energy production provided there are no significant environmental  impacts that can cannot be appropriately managed through the planning application process.

“There is very limited detailed information regarding the environmental impact at this stage and further investigation is needed from detailed studies ahead of any judgement being made by the city council.”

He added that the council also recognises the quality of farming land being proposed for development is important for food production.

“So as ever a balance has to be made between the benefits of renewable energy , the loss of agricultural land and the impact of such development on biodiversity,” Cllr Mackrory continued.

“It has been requested that the proposal should assess the detailed agricultural land classification of the site and seek to minimise the loss of the best and most versatile agricultural land and ensure there is no long term impact on the land once the site has been decommissioned.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter