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Wickham Hall solar farm: Uttlesford district councillors show red card to green energy plan for Bishop's Stortford

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A plea from Bishop's Stortford Climate Group to support a solar farm for the town has been rejected by Uttlesford District Council.

Spokesman Andrew Urquhart urged the north-west Essex authority's planning committee to approve its portion of the Wickham Hall scheme which straddles the border with East Herts, but to no avail.

At a meeting last Wednesday, he said: "We cannot afford to turn opportunities like this down because they might affect the view."

Wickham Hall solar farm plans (56128557)
Wickham Hall solar farm plans (56128557)

He told councillors there were three key reasons why they should vote for the Wickham Hall land plan from Endurance Energy: to end the import of Russian gas, to reduce the impact of fossil fuel price shocks and to cut carbon emissions and avert a climate catastrophe.

UDC declared a climate emergency in 2019 and resolved to achieve net-zero carbon status by 2030.

Endurance says its development, covering an area equivalent to 215 football pitches, would be capable of producing 49.9 megawatts (MW) – almost 50 million watts – of electricity, enough to power 15,000 homes. It is one kilometre (0.62 miles) from the Bishop's Stortford sub-station.

Daniel Brett (56128578)
Daniel Brett (56128578)

Mr Urquhart was backed by Stansted resident, conservationist and beekeeper Daniel Brett, who said: "To achieve net-zero in domestic energy, we need to build a solar farm of at least this size every year over the next eight years. This coverage would involve taking less than 2% of the district's farmland out of production.

"This is an emergency and this council should not take the position of being green in other people's backyards. This emergency requires urgency in achieving solutions, otherwise climate declarations are a pointless waste of time. Seize this opportunity, approve this solar farm."

Greg Hilton, of Endurance Energy, also addressed the council and said any harm would be temporary, adding: "This is the only available site with such minimal impact." The company has promised the green energy plan will also boost biodiversity, jobs and education.

The council was told the 40-year proposal would deliver 36,000 photovoltaic panels across 114 hectares (282 acres), primarily in East Herts' Albury parish, but 35.77ha (88 acres) fall within the jurisdiction of Uttlesford.

Cllr Melvin Caton (56128583)
Cllr Melvin Caton (56128583)

Officers told the committee that East Herts Council was "a couple of months" away from determining its part of the scheme, but there was no reason why Uttlesford should not make a decision now.

Cllr Melvin Caton, a Liberal Democrat representing Stansted South and Birchanger said: "It's a bit perverse if we are not doing things in tandem with East Herts. Their decision will have a dramatic impact on the project."

Other members also argued for a pause. Cllr Geoff Bagnall, a Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) member for Takeley, said East Herts' verdict was a material consideration they should take into account and he abstained from the vote. His R4U colleague, Cllr Neil Reeve, who represents Broad Oak and The Hallingburys, went further and was the only member of the committee to vote against refusal.

Cllr Neil Reeve (56128586)
Cllr Neil Reeve (56128586)

However, Cllr Maggie Sutton, another R4U member for Takeley, said the committee should back Uttlesford's officers' recommendation for refusal.

She said: "We understand our responsibility to climate change, we do not take that lightly." But she said protecting the district's Green Belt was more important.

Cllr Garry LeCount (R4U Henham and Elsenham) agreed: "I think the Green Belt is sacrosanct. There's got to be other places this could be situated."

His proposal to refuse planning permission was carried by five votes to one, with one abstention.

Earlier this year Uttlesford became the first local authority since 2015 to be placed in special measures by the Government for its poor development management performance after 16% of its decisions were overturned at appeal. Now developers can submit major applications directly to the Planning Inspectorate.

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