Huge Somerset solar farm plan size of 100 football pitches

Proposed site of solar farm on B3109 Bradford Road in Rode
Proposed site of solar farm on B3109 Bradford Road in Rode -Credit:Google Maps

A decision on plans for a huge new solar farm near the Somerset-Wiltshire border has been pushed back due to concerns about safe access into the site. Low Carbon UK Solar Investment put forward proposals in November 2023 for a new solar farm on the B3109 Bradford Road near the village of Rode, a few miles north-east of Frome.

The solar farm (dubbed 'Bluebell Wood') could provide enough power for one-third of all homes in the former Mendip area, or around six per cent of all properties in Somerset. The plans came before the council's planning committee east when it met on May 7, with planning officers recommending that permission be granted.

But councillors instead voted to a decision to be delayed for up to three months until access issues had been resolved, with a site visit expected to take place by the end of spring. The solar farm site lies to the north east of the village on agricultural land bordered by Bradford Road to the north and by Monkley Lane and Polar Tree Lane to the east.

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The new solar panels will be a short distance from the Church Farm housing development at the village's southern edge, and a short drive from the neighbouring town of Trowbridge. The solar farm will be able to generate nearly 50MW of energy, with a battery energy storage facility being installed on site to store the energy during times of low demand and sell it back to the National Grid at peak times.

The developer claims the 74.33-hectare site (nearly 184 acres) will have sufficient capacity to power 16,000 homes - the equivalent of half the population of Frome. If approved, the solar farm and battery storage site will be operational for 40 years - after which time the land will be returned to agricultural use.

Gary Holloway, who lives near the site, spoke vociferously against the plans when the planning committee east met in Shepton Mallet on May 7. He told the committee: "This is a poorly considered project, one which has little support from the local community or the public at large.

"This is a large-scale project that will significantly change the character of a hitherto rural area - and 40 years is not a temporary time-frame. In effect, the agricultural land will be lost forever - food security is an increasingly important issue.

"A lot of the so-called mitigation is merely masking, which will take time and is superficial. I absolutely believe that biodiversity will be affected negatively. It is hard to imagine that there are no more appropriate sites that could be found than this one.

Plans for solar farm on B3109 Bradford Road in Rode
Plans for solar farm on B3109 Bradford Road in Rode -Credit:Low Carbon Solar Park 25 Ltd.

"There are better ways of providing alternative power than this." Fletcher Robinson, a planner for CPRE Somerset, concurred: "This is a huge, dominating solar farm, more than twice the size of the historic village of Rode.

"There should be a much larger buffer zone separating the village from the scheme. The full capacity can only be reached for a few weeks of the year at best in summer.

"Solar may be relatively cheap, but it's hugely inefficient compared to offshore wind." Shaun Freeman, who lives on Monkley Lane, claimed the road was too narrow to serve as an appropriate access point - including for emergency vehicles in the event of a fire.

Stock image of solar farm -Credit:Zsuzsa Bóka/Pixabay
Stock image of solar farm -Credit:Zsuzsa Bóka/Pixabay

He said: "Monkley Lane is a narrow, single-track lane which is only two metres wide in part. On entering the lane from the busy, 60mph A361, an HGV driver can see only 50 yards into the lane, and the trimming of trees will not increase this.

"There are no passing places, only private entrances often occupied by parked vehicles. Two HGVs could simply not pass each other.

"A bridleway adjoins the lane, and horse-riders will be in danger with so much additional traffic." Dave Fuller, by contrast, spoke in favour of the plans, arguing the need for clean energy outweighed local concerns about the views of the surrounding countryside.

Councillor Adam Boyden (Liberal Democrat, Frome North)
Councillor Adam Boyden (Liberal Democrat, Frome North) -Credit:Adam Boyden

In a statement read out on his behalf, he said: "I will be a direct neighbour to the solar farm, with parts of the project being in view of my house and garden - but that does not worry me. As a family we embrace renewable technologies and already have solar panels on our roof to provide clean energy.

"I believe we as a community and country need to embrace solar farms. even if they are in our back yard. Changing the way we produce electricity will help slow the effect of climate change, in turn helping farmers.

"There is a possibility of sheep grazing and the project would also stop massive amounts of nitrogen be spread on the land polluting our precious waterways." Somerset Council and its predecessors have approved numerous new solar farms in the last two years - including one on the B3098 Lodge Hill, to the east of Frome, in October 2022.

Claire Sully at the Gravity site near Puriton
Claire Sully at the Gravity site near Puriton -Credit:Bridgwater Liberal Democrats

Councillor Adam Boyden (whose Frome North division includes the site) said: "This one conflicts me. We want to address climate change and increase the generation of renewable energy - but this also has local impacts. Ideally I would like to see this go away and come back better, in a form to which the parish council and the residents of Monkley Lane would not object.

"This feels too big." Councillor Dawn Denton (who represents the same division) disagreed, arguing: "People are more likely to come out when they object, as we saw last week in the local elections. Parts of the land are very clay-heavy and are unsuitable for farming. It is possible to graze under the panels, and the new hedges will grow."

Councillor Claire Sully (Mendip South) added: "I'm in favour of sustainable energy, but I'm not in favour of it being a mitigation for irrevocably changing the rural setting of this village. I like to listen to local voices, which are represented by their parish councils.

"I don't feel that positive about this due to the local impact." The committee voted by 11 votes to one to defer a decision on the plans for up to three months, pending a site visit and further information being provided on the access on Monkley Lane.