Revised Wickham Hall solar farm plan for Bishop's Stortford has added protection for Green Belt
Plans for a solar farm at Wickham Hall to power homes in Bishop's Stortford have been redrawn in a bid to win approval from East Herts Council.
Endurance Energy, which is working with landowner David Harvey on the project, has added extra protection for the Green Belt in its new draft.
It earmarked 114 hectares (282 acres) in East Herts, mostly in Albury parish, and 35.77ha (88 acres) in Uttlesford, primarily in Farnham, for the original scheme.
However, in April, Uttlesford District Council's planning committee refused permission on Green Belt grounds for the part in its jurisdiction.
While Endurance is taking legal advice with a view to an appeal, its head of renewable energy and sustainability, Greg Hilton, said the scheme was still viable using just the East Herts land.
He told the Indie: "Our original proposal would have exported up to 49.9MW of power to the grid. We're still working on the final details of our new design, but in our revised current application with East Herts Council, where we have removed all solar and battery infrastructure from the East Herts Green Belt, we'll be able to export up to 35MW of power to the grid."
"This will provide sufficient power for approximately 10,500 homes on an annual basis." The original plans would have supplied the equivalent of 15,000 properties.
The company is now working with the Harvey family, who have farmed in Bishop's Stortford since 1932, to refine the layout so that no infrastructure for the solar farm is sited in the district's Green Belt. Further screening, to reduce the visual impact, and planting of trees and hedges have been added to the scheme, and key documents are being updated.
Greg said: "It's not going to be very visible at all. The landscape is already dominated by pylons and the (A120) bypass."
"We hope to have addressed all of the main concerns."
David went further as he contemplated creating new ponds and planting thousands of trees: "Our ambition is to create the greenest, most species-diverse solar farm – we're in this for the long term."
He was clear that the solar farm was the best use of the land, capable of making a big impact on energy generation compared to a small contribution to food production.
The application has already won the support of Bishop's Stortford Climate Group, which spoke in favour of the application to UDC's planning committee.
Supporters point to the need to replace Russian gas as an energy source, reduce the impact of fossil fuel price shocks currently causing a cost-of-living crisis in the UK and cut carbon emissions to avert a climate catastrophe.
A key feature of the Wickham Hall solar farm is its proximity to Bishop's Stortford's sub-station. Unlike the pylons which already scar the farmland, taking supplies across the country, the arrays will power the town.
David said: "You can't just put these schemes anywhere... but we can get this up and running within 12 to 18 months, subject to planning approval.
"Solar energy has the lowest cost to generate and we can deliver it quickly."
David has been a long-term advocate of sustainable energy supplies and his work converting redundant farm buildings into a thriving hub for small businesses at Wickham Hall has won praise from the town's civic federation for its eco-friendly credentials.
That development has also been a testing ground for some of the bio-diversity measures planned for the solar farm, including a wildflower meadow, now in full bloom and bustling with insects.
Elsewhere on the farm, sustainability and conservation are built into crop production. For instance, David and son Patrick leave six inches, rather than the standard four, between the rows of their crops to provide a nesting place for skylarks.
As well as introducing new permissive paths for walkers and cyclists to enjoy the flora and fauna the farm will generate, the Harveys and Endurance want the facility to be an educational resource for the area's schoolchildren.
They now await the chance to present their revised scheme to East Herts Council's development management committee this summer and persuade councillors of its merits.
Greg said: "We think this is too important to be decided without the ability for members to debate and consider the whole application in the round."