Somerset councillors have given their unanimous backing to plans for a new solar farm on the outskirts of Frome.
Wessex Solar Energy Ltd. applied for permission to build the facility south of the A3098 Lodge Hill in the village of Berkley, located between Frome and the Wiltshire border. Mendip District Council's planning board voted as one to approve the plans when it convened in Shepton Mallet on Wednesday evening (October 12).
This decision comes barely six months after plans for a separate solar farm, forming part of the planned Selwood Garden Community, were withdrawn due to concerns about causing "adverse harm" to the local landscape. The site lies to the east of Frome, away from the busy A361 and around one mile from the Cranborne Chase area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).
A new access road will be created from Lodge Hill, with existing public rights of way near the site being maintained and new wild flowers being sown to "give local wildlife a boost". The company (which is based near Morpeth in Northumberland) already operates a number of other solar farms in Somerset - including the Park Wall facility near the M5 in Bridgwater, the Cobbs Cross solar farm in Durleigh, and the Pyde Drove facility located near the Gravity smart campus between Puriton and Woolavington.
Company director Richard Wearmouth - a former Northumberland county councillor - told the board that the facility would prove vital in securely meeting the UK's future energy needs, with the solar farm being able to power up to 3,700 homes in the local area. He said: "We live in unusual times, with issues surrounding energy at the forefront of our minds.
"Our country has become dependent upon imported natural gas at the same time as we need to reduce our reliance on coal-fired power stations to meet our climate change objectives. This situation is unsustainable and creates a thread to our country and our local communities.
"Key to delivering net zero, while reducing our dependency on imported energy, is the rapid uptake of local, renewable energy. Solar parks are the cheapest form of electricity generation in the UK today."
Chris Da Costa, who lives over the border in Wiltshire, said that this was the wrong location for such a scheme. He said: "I've voted for Green candidates, my son works in climate change for the UN, and we support the green agenda - but tonight, I represent the local residents in Wiltshire who object to this scheme.
"The applicant claims the land was poor quality; this year, it contained a fine crop of barley. The AONB is very concerned that the effects of the development will be very much more obvious and intrusive than the documentation suggests."
Councillor Shannon Brooke - whose Beckington and Selwood ward includes the site - said it was "crucially important" that solar farms were installed in appropriate locations which did not lead to the loss of valuable farmland. In a statement read out on her behalf, she said: "The scale and mass of commercialising Mendip's green and pleasant land obviously has to be weighed up against the benefit of clean energy production.
"At 11 feet high, these panels are in my opinion too high. I am not minded to change my position on this point."
Councillor Lucie Taylor-Hood said the benefits of the facility outweighed concerns about the impact it would have on the local landscape. She said: "We've got something in front of us which is going to benefit Mendip, the country and the world.
"No-one really wants these things on any kind of beautiful landscape, but we do need these things." Councillor Adam Boyden added: "This development alone would meet the electricity needs of about 8.5 per cent of the households in the whole districts - that's a quite substantial amount of electricity coming from this site.
"We've declared a climate emergency, and we say a lot of nice things about that, but it seems to me that this is a decision we can take tonight to actually do something about it." The board voted unanimously to approve the plans after around an hour's debate.
Content truncated due to possible copyright. Use source link for full article.