Huge solar farm to be built after appeal despite concerns it would 'merge Essex towns together'

A solar farm big enough to power more than 16,500 homes has been allowed at appeal by the planning inspectorate. Epping Forest District Council had said the proposal from Low Carbon would result in the merging of settlements in Harlow and Roydon.

The council also said it would result in the loss of around 70 hectares of farmland used for food production. But the application has been allowed at appeal with the inspectorate concluding that while Harlow is a town with a population of approximately 90,000, Roydon is a small village with a population of approximately 1,500 "and is not a ‘town’ by definition, as confirmed by the development plan".

Inspector Matthew Shrigley said that because of this "the scheme would not result in two towns merging". He added: “Consequently, although the solar panels and associated development are no doubt engineered built features, recognition of that point does not suggest to me it would result in urban sprawl of an existing built-up area.

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"Thus, I disagree that the scheme would contribute to sprawl from either Harlow or Roydon because distinctions in character would remain reinforced by natural landscaping.”

He also said the scheme would make an early and significant contribution to the objective of achieving Net Zero while concluding the site represents in the order of 0.3 per cent of the overall farmland within the district.

"It is extremely probable that greater proportions of higher graded agricultural land would be present elsewhere locally," he added. He concluded: "The level of overall scheme benefits on offer still exceeds all of those harms combined."