Cheshire councillors reject green belt solar farm against officers' recommendation

Proposals for a 5MW solar farm in Cheshire have been rejected by councillors, despite officers' recommendations to approve the green belt development.

Solar: Cheshire scheme refused
Solar: Cheshire scheme refused

Developer Peel Energy had sought permission to install 20,000 photovoltaic panels on 10 hectares of agricultural land near Hapsford, arguing that the National Planning Policy Framework’s (NPPF) test for the renewable energy scheme’s acceptability had been met.

Normally, the NPPF classifies such proposals as "inappropriate development" in the green belt, unless special circumstances exist to allow them to be approved. 

Peel Energy said the development would be screened and therefore not visually intrusive, would bring a package of ecological enhancements, and would provide community benefits, including the provision of solar panels to a local school and a community centre.

Recommending the scheme for approval, Cheshire West and Chester Council planning officers said in a report that, while some of Peel’s "special circumstances" arguments carried only limited weight, the provision of renewable energy was given "substantial weight in both local and national policy".

They added that the solar farm would also provide employment and farm diversification without resulting in the loss of high-grade agricultural land.

"On balance, it is considered that the applicant has demonstrated very special circumstances that outweigh the harm to the green belt in this particular case," they said.

"The harm as a result of the development is outweighed by the benefits associated with the proposal."

However planning committee members disagreed with the officers' assessment and voted to refuse the application by eight votes to one, after concluding that special circumstances did not exist to warrant to approval. 

Peel Energy declined to comment.

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