Huge solar farm approved near Brentwood

A new solar panel farm will be built on farmland outside Brentwood after planners backed a bid last night.

Brentwood Borough Council’s planning committee approved the proposals on Tuesday (November 23) when officials said the net zero carbon benefits from the solar farm would be big enough to supply one third of Brentwood’s electricity, and outweigh the “harm to the green belt”.

By unanimously approving the solar panel farm on Herongate farmland, councillors have ignored officers’ recommendations that the proposal is unacceptable on the grounds “it would result in development in the greenbelt outside any exception listed in the National Planning Policy Framework”.

Instead they said the plans could be categorised as a special circumstance.

The solar farm, being developed by Low Carbon, would generate approximately 30MW, enough to power 9,968 homes – removing the need for around 6,740 tonnes of CO2 to be pumped into the atmosphere each year.

The decision must now be referred to the secretary of state due to the nature of the proposal that according to law would “have a significant impact on the openness of the greenbelt”.

The committee agreed that the planning legislation is no longer fit for purpose in relation to green belt land being used for green power projects.

But it also heard that the development – on land north of the A127 and just west of Dunton Wayletts – would actually improve the biodiversity of the area over the 40 years of its lifespan.

James Hartley-Bond, head of project development for solar at Low Carbon, said the development will turn a site which has been found to be of low biodiversity value “into something genuinely providing net gain”.

He said: “(This includes) the conversion of the land to a species-rich grassland, creation of wildflower meadow areas, 770 metres of new native species hedgerow to support foraging bats and nesting birds bird and bat boxes around the site log piles for reptiles and small mammals as well as the provision for beehives and sheep grazing.”

Cllr Maria Pearson, (Cons, Herongate, Ingrave and West Horndon) who does not sit on the planning committee said: “This farm sits on green belt land and greenbelt land and its protection is gravely important but I know that the legislation has not caught up with the green initiatives yet unfortunately.

“However placing these farms on green belt land does not remove its green belt status. It’s green belt now and it’ll be green belt in 40 years time when the structures are removed again.

“This solar farm gives us the opportunity to provide clean green renewable energy to nearly 10,000 homes a year in this borough.”

She said the carbon figures were stark and the plan had not initiated a single complaint from residents.

“Solar energy is not a fad, it’s not a gimmick, it’s a necessity and will be even more important as the years come as we move forward.

“But I ask you please to note and give weight to the fact that both parish councils in my ward Herongate and West Horndon in particular are supportive of this farm and there have been no objections from any resident or any business in my ward.”

Cllr Gareth Barrett, (Lab, brentwood South) said: “Brentwood is surrounded by greenbelt and in fact we’re actually in our local development plan choosing to build residential in the very close vicinity to this area.

“I think that we have to talk the talk as well as walk the walk in this council and unfortunately the only sites possible in Brentwood are on the green belt in terms of some of these green technologies.

“And it would be inappropriate to build solar farms on brown belt when we’ve got such a big housing need.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter

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