Planning approval granted to eight hectare solar farm in Clapham

Solar Power Image for illustrative purposes
Image for illustrative purposes

A planning application for an eight hectares solar farm in Clapham has been approved by councillors.

The planning application for the site on land north of College Farm, Green Lane,  was before the council’s Planning Committee (Monday, January 23) as Brickhill Parish Council had raised an objection.

Councillor Sue Oliver (Labour, Kempston North) wondered why Brickhill had objected when the site was in Clapham.

Gideon Richards, team leader development management, said: “Brickhill were consulted because they are an adjacent parish.

“The application site sits right on the boundary of Clapham and Brickhill but it is wholly within the Clapham boundary.”

Councillor Oliver said: “I’m a bit surprised with Brickhill Parish Council, don’t they know that we’ve declared, as a borough council, a climate emergency?

“This land isn’t lost forever, it’s a 50-year development, presumably there will still be arable land afterwards,” she said.

Nobody spoke on behalf of Brickhill Parish Council, but the report listed its objection as “arable land will be lost due to the development”.

The report presented to the committee said the land is of “low quality and limited environmental value”.

Adding that specific site surveys have been carried out which define the land as grade 3b (clay with limited crop potential due to wetness) and with low quality grassland with no ecological value.

Councillor Martin Towler (Conservative, Riseley) asked who carried out the land survey.

Mr Richards said: “The general agricultural land classification which was done some years ago by Natural England has classified most of the land around Bedford as grade 2.

“In specific applications most developers will then go away and do their own site specific surveys.

“The developers employed someone to do the survey that came back and showed that the whole of the land is 3b.

“Grades 1 to 3a are the best and most versatile [land] 3b up to 5 falls outside of that.

“There’s more of a relaxation in terms of using that land for other uses than crop production,” he said

“Every field around it is growing wheat on all three sides,” councillor Towler commented.

Mr Richards said: “Any harm recognized by the development is outweighed by the substantial benefits of providing new renewable energy.

“The site would also provide new biodiversity benefits through the provision of better quality grassland for ground nesting birds, a wildflower meadow to support insects, and additional bird/bat boxes

“Therefore improving local habitats for wildlife. The land will also retain some agricultural use through grazing for sheep and chickens.

“Overall, the development is considered to be in accordance with the Local Plan, the Clapham Neighbourhood Plan and the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework].”

The committee voted to approve the application subject to conditions set out by the council.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter