Developer accused of misleading council to gain permission to build Knebworth solar farm

Stevenage town can clearly be seen across the field where a proposed solar farm would be built

Stevenage town can clearly be seen across the field where a proposed solar farm would be built - Credit: Archant

A developer has been accused of misleading a council to gain planning permission to build a solar farm.

The Hertforshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England has claimed that Solstice Renewables has down played the land quality on an application to North Herts District Council for the 40-acre site on Swangleys Lane in Knebworth.

The campaign group has released a six page document opposing the application on five grounds, one of which disputed the company’s claim that the more than half of the site wasn’t good quality arable land.

Agricultural land is graded on a sliding scale from one to five, split in the middle by grade 3a – good – and 3b, which represents good to moderate.

The government’s planning rules state that land graded 1, 2 and 3a should be protected.

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A survey carried out by the developer said that 46 per cent of the land that panels would be place on was 3a and 54 per cent was 3b. The CPRE says this is misleading because it ignores the fact that large parts of the field, which will not have any panels on, are grades 2 and 3a.

In a statement, the CPRE said: “We have considerable concerns about the way in which this aspect of the development has been presented. Statements in the documentation accompanying the application are highly misleading.

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“If the whole field is considered it is obvious that the bulk of the land is grade 2 and 3a high quality agricultural land, and as such should not be developed.”

The CPRE also said the solar farm would harm the landscape, reduce public accessibility to the land, damage the land’s biodiversity and there is no guarantee it would be returned to agricultural use after the solar farm is dismantled in 25 years’ time.

The site, which would generate enough electricity to power up to 2,500 homes, is the fourth application submitted to build a solar farm in the surrounding area in the last year.

Giovanni Maruca, director of Solstice Renewables, said: “We think CPRE is being disingenuous. We assessed the whole site and dropped the best quality grade 2 land from the planning application, leaving a mixture of 3a and 3b, which is clearly stated and we believe is justifiable use for a solar farm and complies with industry and national guidelines. The CPRE’s view is at odds with Friends of the Earth which strongly support the application. However it is up to the planners to make a balanced decision.”

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