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Agenda item

21/00259/FUL - Land at Claydon Farm, Claydon, Tewkesbury

PROPOSAL: Construction of a solar farm and battery storage facility together with all associated works, equipment and necessary infrastructure.

 

OFFICER RECOMMENDATION: Permit. 

Minutes:

38.12        This application was for construction of a solar farm and battery storage facility together with all associated works, equipment and necessary infrastructure.

38.13        The Planning Officer advised that the application site comprised two connected parcels of land; the eastern parcel of the site was the largest at 96 hectares and comprised 12 agricultural fields located to the south of Claydon Farm and to the east of Fiddington.  Temporary permission was sought for a 40 year period for the solar panels, battery stations and associated equipment which would be removed after that time.  The western parcel of land extended to 0.37 hectares and comprised part of an agricultural field which was currently used for pastoral farming to the south of Bozard’s Lane, approximately 250 metres to the east of Tredington.  Planning permission was sought for that part of the site for a sub-station and associated access on a permanent basis.  The east and west parcel of land were connected by Bozard’s Lane and a cable linking the two parts of the proposal would be laid within the carriageway to connect the two parcels.  The applicant had advised that the solar farm would provide for up to 49.9 megawatts of electricity which could help meet the energy needs of approximately 10,000 homes and the proposal would make a significant contribution to meeting targets for renewable energy as well as the reduction of greenhouse gases.  The application was supported by a sequential analysis study and an agricultural land classification report which confirmed that the majority of the site was Grade 3b agricultural land.  The sequential analysis demonstrated that there were no available or suitable areas of previously developed land, or lower quality agricultural land, suitable for the development within a reasonable catchment area.  In terms of the visual impact of the solar farm, the site was outside of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Special Landscape Area, and the network of mature hedgerows and trees around the site and within the surrounding area filtered views into and across the site.  The overall impact of the proposed solar farm on the landscape character area and on the character of the site was considered by the Council’s Landscape Officer to be minor adverse; the impact of the development would ultimately be reversible.  There would be detrimental impact on residential amenity during the construction phase of the development; however, given this was temporary and the extent of the impact could be controlled and mitigated through conditions, it would not be unacceptable.  The Council’s Ecological Advisors and Tree Officer had been consulted on the application and raised no objection, subject to appropriate planning conditions to protect retained trees and secure the proposed biodiversity enhancements.  In addition, County Highways, the Lead Local Flood Authority and County Archaeologists also raised no objection to the proposal.  Overall, Officers considered that the benefits of the proposal outweighed the identified harm and the application was generally in accordance with development plan policy.  After publication of the Committee report, a request had been received from National Highways that the application was not determined until additional information had been provided in relation to the precise route, method and extent of works required for the cabling connection from the proposed solar farm to the proposed substation.  As such, the Officer recommendation had been amended to delegate authority to the Development Manager to permit the application, subject to National Highways concerns being resolved.

38.14        The Chair invited the applicant’s representative to address the Committee.  The applicant’s representative explained that, against the backdrop of COP26, he was honoured to offer a sensible but bold response to climate change to support the borough and county targets.  A crucial step towards fighting climate change was to decarbonise the electricity system and the government had legislated that the UK would be net zero by 2050 with Gloucestershire County Council declaring in May 2019 that it would follow suit – the applicant was ready to make a significant contribution to meeting those commitments.  The land at Claydon Farm, half of which had previously been approved for a solar installation, would lead to the equivalent displacement of over 20,000 tonnes of carbon annually compared to fossil fuel generation; that was the equivalent demand of over 10,000 homes which equated roughly to one quarter of homes in Tewkesbury borough.  The Committee report demonstrated the designs put forward were technically sound and sensitive to the local environment and, subject to satisfying the late request from National Highways to provide more information, the scheme would have received no professional consultee objections, resulting in a positive recommendation from the Planning Officer.  The limited number of objections from the community were noted and the applicant’s representative welcomed the eight letters of support the plans had received from residents.  The desire to protect the highest quality and most versatile agricultural land was recognised and comprehensive studies had been conducted to inform the application.  The applicant’s representative was pleased with the conclusion drawn in the Committee report that there were “no previously developed sites available or suitable sites of lower quality agricultural land (Grade 4 or 5) suitable for the solar park development”.  The plans did, however, include provision for sheep grazing during the operation of the solar farm, ensuring that the site could still be used for certain agricultural practices.  The applicant recognised the importance of the landscape in this part of the county and had brought forward a scheme which would have a very limited impact in that regard.  The Landscape Advisor agreed there would be no significant effects on the landscape and visual receptors.  That was further mitigated by the commitment to additional planting of hedgerows, trees and wildflower areas which would also significantly improve the overall biodiversity.  Beyond the significant impact in tackling climate change, the proposals would also deliver substantial and tangible benefits for the local community including the resurfacing of over one kilometre of bridleway running through the site, as well as a rooftop solar panel system for Ashchurch Village Hall which was in addition to approximately £7.6m worth of business rates which would be generated over the lifecycle.  The applicant’s representative thanked Members for the opportunity to address the Committee and respectfully requested that they support the Officer recommendation.

38.15        The Chair indicated that the Officer recommendation was that authority be delegated to the Development Manager to permit the application, subject to National Highways concerns being resolved, and he sought a motion from the floor.  A Member asked for an explanation as to why the application was recommended for a delegated permit as opposed to a deferral in light of the request from National Highways that the application not be determined until the additional information had been provided in relation to the precise route, method and extent of works required for the cabling connection from the proposed solar farm to the proposed substation.  She also noted that Page No. 76, Paragraph 1.7 of the report, stated that the temporary permission would be for a period of 40 years but her recollection was that previous applications for solar farms had generally been for a 25 year period and she asked whether technology had improved so much in a short space of time that it would now last for the 40 year period.  In response, the Planning Officer explained that National Highways had effectively put in a holding objection asking that the application not be determined until the required information had been provided and that could not be dealt with by condition.  The matter was in hand as the applicant was preparing the information so National Highways would be consulted as soon as it was received and it was hoped things would move forward quickly.  In terms of Paragraph 1.7 of the report, he had been involved in a number of applications for solar farms during his time at Tewkesbury Borough Council and it was not uncommon now for temporary permissions to be sought for a period of 40 years which he understood was as a result of improvement technology and solar panels operating for a longer period.  The Member raised concern that the delegated permission would result in a longer delay in the determination of the application and she asked the Planning Officer for an indication as to how long it might take, or whether it would be more expedient to defer.  In response, the Planning Officer explained that the applicant had been asked to provide the required information and, once received, it would be subject to a 21 day standard consultation.  A delegated permission would allow the decision notice to be issued once the information had been considered by National Highways and found to be acceptable so that was considered to be the most efficient way to progress a decision.

38.16        Another Member raised concern as to what would happen to the 10,000 properties which would receive electricity via the solar farm at the end of the 40 year period and whether the solar panels would be taken to landfill or if they would be recycled.  The Planning Officer advised that recommended condition 30 required a decommissioning method statement to be submitted to, and approved by, the Local Planning Authority which would set out the detail of the restoration of the site to its current state; what happened to the solar panels themselves was a matter for the operator.  The Member felt that, in terms of the reduction of carbon, it would be more effective for the solar farm to run continuously rather than for a set period of 40 years beyond which it would stop.  Another Member recognised the fact that electricity was needed so it was a question of how to produce it in a greener way which used less carbon.  This development offered an opportunity to provide electricity in a safe, green environment and, whilst he was sure there would be a way of recycling the units in 40 years’ time, it was not possible to predict the future so it was necessary to focus on what could be done now.  In terms of the impact on the countryside, he indicated there was a solar farm near Gretton which looked like a field of lavender or rapeseed from a distance so he felt the impact on the countryside views would be limited.  On that basis, he proposed that authority be delegated to the Development Manager to permit the application in accordance with the Officer recommendation.  This proposal was duly seconded.  A Member indicated that he did not disagree with the proposer of the motion; however, an important point had been raised in terms of whether it would be better to defer the application until the relevant information had been received from the applicant.  He appreciated why the proposal was for a delegated permission but he felt that the request from National Highways was a fairly fundamental issue and it would be sensible to defer the application to put the onus on the applicant.  He was rather surprised that level of detail had not been discussed at this stage of the application process and he proposed that the application be deferred.  The proposal was duly seconded.  Upon being put to the vote, the motion for a deferral was lost.  The motion that authority be delegated to the Development Manager to permit the application, subject to National Highways’ concerns being resolved, which had already been proposed and seconded, was subsequently put to the vote and it was

RESOLVED           That authority be DELEGATED to the Development Manager to PERMIT the application, subject to National Highways’ concerns being resolved.

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