Plans have not even been submitted yet, but proposals to build the UK’s biggest solar farm in Fareham are already proving controversial.
If it goes ahead, the 123 acre scheme will dwarf the UK’s current largest solar farm – a 30 acre site, also in Hampshire, at the Cadland estate in Fawley near Southampton.
German renewable energy company IB Vogts wants to build the huge facility at Newlands Farm, east of Meoncross School in Stubbington, as reported.
Now they have announced an exhibition which will allow the public to see rough plans for the first time.
Mark Best, part of the team at planning agents Parker Dann, which is handling the proposal, says: ‘It is important to stress that the proposal is not in a polished form at the moment – but that’s the whole idea of the public consultation, so we can make adjustments if we need to.
‘Hopefully people will agree with us and find it an exciting proposal for the area.
‘Its green credentials are impeccable.
‘We are conscious that we want as many people to attend the consultation as possible.
‘We would like to have the planning application submitted in a month, but the district council have not responded to our request for a screening and scoping opinion yet.
‘That will tell us whether we need to do an environmental impact assessment, so hopefully they will respond soon as that will require extra work if it is needed.’
If everything goes smoothly, the farm could be up and running by next Spring.
However, the site forms part of the strategic gap between south Fareham and Stubbington, land which is protected from development by Fareham Borough Council’s local plan – the document which aims to shape the borough’s growth up to 2026.
‘IB Vogts have assessed the location and they believe it’s a viable location,’ adds Mr Best.
‘This is by definition a development and as such we have to produce a robust planning statement and how it ties in with local planning policies and national planning policies.
‘We understand there are developers out there interested in this area for housing. If we put a solar farm here it would prevent that for at least 25 years.’
The farm would produce 47 mega-watts of energy, enough to power 14,000 homes, which will be pumped back into the national grid.
The company believes this will be a big step in helping the UK meet its target of 15 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020, which it signed up to under the EU Renewable Energy Directive.
The solar panels would be put up on long racks about 7ft high called arrays. These metal frames are on pole foundations so allows the ground beneath the arrays to remain intact.
The company says the fields underneath would be sown with grass seed and grazed by sheep once the solar farm is up and running. And around the arrays they propose to plant belts of wildflower meadow and install other features such as bird and bat boxes.
There are also plans for pedestrian, cycle and horse-riding paths, as well as the potential creation of a nature trail and some additional green space.
Mr Best says: ‘We are trying to firm up what we can offer back to the community at the moment and we have some ideas we can discuss these at the exhibition.
‘We are really excited about it as a proposal and it’s very exciting to work on. It would be a shame if there was a blase attitude towards it.
‘It’s been interesting to see that there are people out there already supporting it.’
Fareham Borough Council leader Cllr Sean Woodward branded the proposals ‘shocking’, and called for thorough consultation as well as close evaluation of the pros and cons for the scheme.
nA consultation exhibition will take place at Neville Lovett School in St Anne’s Grove in Fareham from 3pm to 9pm on October 3
There will be experts on hand to answer questions and the chance to have a say on the scheme.
FACTORS THAT GO INTO PLANS
There are several other plans in the pipeline for other large farms around the country.
As the rush to embrace renewable energies picks up pace, increasing numbers of solar farms are being mooted.
A 37 acre facility to be created at Marley Thatch Farm, near South Brent in Devon by TGC Renewables was approved by local councillors in June this year. But outstripping all of these are the proposals by renewable energy firm Good Energy, which wants to build a 224 acre farm near the Cornish village Week St Mary.
It has yet to submit plans, but has been in talks with local authorities.
When looking for potential solar farm sites, IB Vogts says it looks at a number of factors.
Sunlight intensity levels: the site is well located geographically for solar gain, is relatively flat and is free of any buildings or landscape features that could overshadow it.
Grid connection: proximity of the site to a sub-station that has capacity is essential. Sites will be connected efficiently to existing national grid infrastructure
Good road access.
Minimal environmental constraints: the site is free of any landscape, ecological, archaeological or conservation designations.