New plans loom for 'bonkers' solar farm on outskirts of Coventry

The applicant behind a large solar farm turned down by Solihull planners has not ruled out trying again. Campaigners said they were ready to resume the fight if Exagen Group appeals the decision or returned with another application.

Plans for Holly Lane Energy Park included a large solar farm and battery storage units on greenbelt land at Meer End, an area between Balsall Common and Solihull. Exagen wanted to erect the solar farm on fields just off Meer End Road, which is also the site of a number of homes.

The solar farm was proposed to export a capacity of 28MW – equivalent to the electricity usage of around 11,000 homes in Solihull per year. But more than 120 campaigners backed the ‘No Solar Here’ campaign and at a meeting of Solihull Council’s planning committee the plans were thrown out despite council officers recommending it for approval.

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During the meeting Coun Martin McCarthy said: “If this is allowed what will be distinctive about this area? It will be an industrial zone, not a place to live.”

Coun Heather Delaney said: “We all understand the need for green energy but we have to balance that need with the need to protect our ever dwindling green belt. Solar farms don’t need to be on green fields, they don’t need to be on the green belt.

“They (solar panels) can be in warehouses, schools, over car parks. There is plenty of that land available.”

Coun David Cole said: “I can’t believe there is yet another application to build in the green belt.” But Coun Mark WiIson said he was “quite torn” on the plan. “We need renewable clean energy,” he said.

“It’s fine to say ‘stick it somewhere else’ but where is it going to go? No-one seems to know. It is a responsibility of ours – the council has declared a climate emergency.”

Plans for the Holly Lane Energy Park -Credit:Exagen/Solihull Council
Plans for the Holly Lane Energy Park -Credit:Exagen/Solihull Council

Coun Richard Holt, chairman of the planning committee, said: “Climate emergency is at the front of our minds. I don’t think this is appropriate. It urbanises our rural landscape.

“This is a money-making scheme. It is a cost to the green belt and not something that can be replaced.”

Eight councillors voted against the scheme with one abstention at the meeting in March. In a statement this week Exagen said: “We acknowledge the decision reached by Solihull Council’s planning committee despite the planning officer’s recommendation for approval.

“The energy park would improve the UK’s energy security, significantly contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions and deliver substantial biodiversity net gain. We remain convinced of the benefits the project would provide and we are currently considering our next steps.

“The council set a renewable energy target of 430MW of installed capacity, of which just 10.6MW is installed. This project alone would nearly treble this and displace 12,600 tonnes of CO2 per year.”

Campaigner Ian Mulingani said: “It was close to a unanimous vote which sends a signal (to the applicant). Solar is a good thing, but on farmland it’s a bit bonkers. There are alternatives. It was a bit of a money grab.

“They could come back. We have had a load more banners printed and we are ready to go if we need to.”

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