Thursday, May 11, 2023

News: £60m Rotherham solar farm a shade nearer


Plans for a massive solar farm in Rotherham are being recommended for approval by council planners but the Secretary of State will need to see them as it would result in thousands of solar panels installed on green belt land.

Rothbiz reported last year that independent renewable energy firm Banks Renewables had submitted a planning application for a new solar energy park on a 116-hectare piece of agricultural land to the west of the Todwick Road Industrial Estate in Dinnington, around three miles east of Banks’ Penny Hill wind farm at Ulley.

Now the plans are set to go before the planning board at Rotherham Council this month, with members being recommended to give them the green light.

The Common Farm Solar project would have an installed capacity of up to 50MW. This compares to the capacity of up to 20MW at Penny Hill Wind Farm and 44MW at the Templeborough Biomass power station.

Planning permission would be for a period of 40 years. The construction period is an estimated 6-9 months.

On mainly arable fields, Banks' plan for Common Farm is to install rows of 4.5m high solar panels and a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS). Electricity generated will be taken by cables, overhead or underground, to the Thurcroft electricity sub-station around three kilometres to the north of the site, which will help support the long-term security of energy supplies to UK consumers.

Banks has demonstrated that the application site is the only suitable site within Rotherham and admit that the development "will result in a limited number of adverse affects" but state that it will also generate a number of benefits.

Objections have been received from members of the public and local parish councils who are raising concerns over the visual impact and the loss of farmland and habitat for local wildlife, adding that approval would set a precedent for developing land within the green belt.

A planner's report shows agreement that the development will result in some localised adverse visual effects, and that these effects generally reduce the greater the distance from the site.

A 3.5m high opaque fence adjacent to Todwick Road is required as mitigation for glint and glare from the panels after a creating a bund was discounted on cost grounds. The fence itself "will have an adverse impact on the visual amenity of the area."

The council do not agree with the applicants that the level of impact on the openness of the green belt is minimal and conclude that the solar farm "would lead to both spatial and visual harm to the Green Belt. The impact would be perceived over a large geographical area and the encroachment would result in a significant adverse effect that would have a harmful impact upon openness.

"Whilst for a temporary period, the operational period of the development, at 40 years, still represents a significant period of time for the proposal to lead to loss of openness. The Local Planning Authority therefore consider that the proposed development would result in inappropriate development in the Green Belt."

Developers need to demonstrate very special circumstances for using the green belt land and council planners confirm that "the benefits of renewable energy raise substantial benefits in favour of the proposal" and environmantal, economic and social benefits amount to a total investment of approximately £61.2m over its lifetime, plus an annual package of community benefits totalling £50,000 a year.

The installed capacity is enough to meet the average annual electricity requirements of up to 18,800 family homes and would displace over 11,470 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the electricity supply network each year.

Planners conclude: "The public benefits of the proposal are of sufficient magnitude to outweigh the substantial harm found to the Green Belt and all other harm identified above. These benefits identified attract very substantial weight in favour of the scheme. In this context, the harm to the Green Belt would be clearly outweighed by the other considerations and therefore the very special circumstances necessary to justify the development exist. Accordingly, the proposal would satisfy the local and national Green Belt policies."

The planning board is due to meet to discuss the scheme on May 18.

Should the board vote to approve the plans, they would then be referred to the Secretary of State who will decide if they requires further scrutiny.

Banks Group website

Images: Banks


Anonymous,  May 11, 2023 at 5:51 PM  

Given how woefully out of their depth they are in the planning department, I'll simply the issue for any councillor that happens to read this.

You have greenbelt land for a reason: It's protected.

Does this comply with suitable use for greenbelt land? No.

There you go, decision made. Simple.

It doesn't matter how much you dress up the arguments, whether it's a good idea or a bad one. That's what this comes down to. I bet the planners are kicking themselves about not re-allocating this site a few years ago.

In a way, I hope they do pass it, as it would show exactly just how little regard greenbelt land is treated by the planning department. Hopefully that way it will be a one way ticket into special measures, and someone with half a brain cell might take charge of planning within RMBC.

Anonymous,  May 11, 2023 at 11:22 PM  

That in the shell of a nut says it all. Rotherham Planning is not, and has never been, fit for purpose.

Anonymous,  May 12, 2023 at 11:06 AM  

Totally agree planning department not fit for purpose staff no idea what they are doing

Anonymous,  May 12, 2023 at 10:53 PM  

To be fair, the head of Planning at least keeps coming up with ideas. His name is Baldrick I think

Anonymous,  May 13, 2023 at 12:26 AM  

Not only do they not have a plan B, they don't have a plan A.

Anonymous,  May 14, 2023 at 7:49 AM  

OK, it's probably time to start cutting the planning managers a bit of slack. It must be pretty demoralising reading all the negative comments posted whenever they make yet another excruciating ricket. So I for one will be trying to encourage managers whenever it is deserved.
And I think we all ought to bear in mind that it can't be much fun being on work experience placements these days.

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