A solar power station straddling the borders of Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes, could be on the cards after developers approached three councils for their opinions on the environmental impact of the scheme.
The potential site of the 45mw electricity generating solar panels covers 75 hectares of farmland just outside the villages of Astwood and Stagsden, between Newport Pagnell and Bedford, and could supply electricity to up to 15,000 homes.
Planning agent Pegasus Group has been told by Milton Keynes Council that renewable energy company Renewable Connections Developments would not have to complete an environmental impact assessment as part of the planning process.
The developers admit that the plan for the site, off Cranfield Road, “would inevitably change the character of the site from undulating arable farmland to solar arrays, transformer boxes, inverter stations, security fencing and associated infrastructure. “
However they consider that none of the “low impact” of the proposal would add up to “significant effects” in planning terms.
One local resident begs to differ, telling planners that the development would result in “a significant industrialisation of the valley which would be visible for several kilometres.”
He adds: “It will comprise thousands of three-metre tall dark, oblong solar panels, arranged in non-natural serried ranks and columns which, due to the location on the side of a valley cannot be effectively screened by hedges or trees from the multiple public rights of way along the valley.”
The developers contend though that the scheme, which would provide power for an estimated 40 years, would allow the land to recover from “decades of intensive farming.”
And they are proposing to allow animals to graze on the land under and between the solar panels, to plant new hedges and trees, and to encourage the growth of species-rich meadows.
“Any future planning application will include a mitigation strategy setting this out in full,” the agent adds.
There is also an ancient woodland, called Snakes’ Meadow, on the site which they say they will provide a 15m buffer to protect the tree roots.
Milton Keynes Council planners agree that the development would not need an environmental statement to be provided with any forthcoming planning application.
“From the information provided, the scheme is not considered to be result in significant adverse environmental impacts during the construction or ongoing
occupation of the development”, MK Council says in a letter dated September 21.
The developers have asked local residents for their opinions and say comments will be taken into account in shaping the final planning application.
A protest group called West End Solar Farm Action Group has been formed and a petition on the Change.org website has been signed by 67 people.
The group is opposing “the industrial sized solar farm, complete with high security fencing, lighting, outbuildings and battery storage has been proposed in this rural residential area.”
The developers have created a website with details of the scheme.
By David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter