Solar farm plans rejected for second time in a month

Plans for a new solar farm have been dealt a second blow after being rejected by East Staffordshire councillors - less than a month after their Staffordshire Moorlands counterparts also refused permission. The 49.9MW facility was earmarked for land near Upper Leigh and Lower Tean, spanning Staffordshire Moorlands District and East Staffordshire Borough, so the application was considered by both authorities.

Last month Staffordshire Moorlands District Council's planning committee voted to refuse permission for the development, which would have provided power for around 11,500 homes, after raising concerns about the number of solar farms already earmarked for the area. On Tuesday (April 23) East Staffordshire Borough Council's planning committee also voted to reject the plans on the grounds of visual impact and the cumulative impact of sites.

An 11.5MW solar farm on a 23 hectare site has already been built just over 500 metres to the north west. Planning permission has also been granted for a 42 hectare site 200m away at Upper Newton Farm and another solar farm within a kilometre, at Totmonslow Farm, but these two facilities are not yet built.

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The borough council had previously considered the application in February but deferred its decision to enable further consultation with the applicant on field arrangements and the proposed battery storage unit. A report to Tuesday's meeting said that an amended site layout plan had come forward with changes to panel arrangements in two fields next to Leigh Lane and the removal of the battery energy storage system.

Chris Sowerbutts from Lightrock Power, who spoke in support of the application, said: "We have done everything we can to redesign and take everybody's views within the planning process into account to ensure we have a high quality scheme. There is a resident on Leigh Lane and through the design process we tried to put the panels back as far as we could from that property.

"There are quite a lot of changes of legislature around battery storage; this is a move within Government to try and clarify and create a straighter process. We thought the most sensible thing was to remove (the battery energy storage system) altogether.

"Once that legislature is confirmed it will be considered completely separately from this application. Batteries are not part of this application and if we want to come back it will be a separate application."

Neil Warburton, who spoke against the application, said: "Small amendments have been made to the application but they can only be described as a tick box exercise. How can this storage system be so integral yet two months later the applicant decides to remove it?

"We all know what is happening here; get planning through and reapply for it later. Overwhelmingly, this application is poorly thought out and we ask you as councillors to represent local community views.

"There will be 229.5 acres taken out of sustainable food production. And there will be 91,752 solar panels in total with over 9,000 traffic movements - I have been down the road and it is not fit for purpose."

Committee members were told that 69 objections were received in response to the latest consultation on the plans. Of these, 35 were from residents who had not previously commented on the previous submissions.

Councillor Jacqui Jones said: "That's a lot of objections for a small area. That really does concern me.

"I struggle to see how we are going to make a decision on this in view of Staffordshire Moorlands turning it down on cumulative impact. The additional time has muddied the water for me in terms of how we make the decision."

Councillor Bev Ashcroft said: "I'm really concerned about the whole cluster effect - that is a massive area of solar panels. I was hoping for something better coming forward with this application.

Councillor Colin Whittaker said: "We do need solar to keep things going. It's a good idea, but in the wrong area because of the cumulative impact and transport issues it will create.

"Leigh is a rural area and it will spoil the whole character of the area. I cannot support this."

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