AMBITIOUS plans for what could be the largest community-owned solar farm in the UK on the outskirts of Chester have cleared a vital hurdle.
Cheshire West and Chester Council’s planning committee this week gave its unanimous backing to its section of a cross-border scheme by New Energy Wales (YnNi Newydd) for the project on agricultural land at Bretton Hall Farm in Saltney.
Spanning more than 120 acres – equal to around 70 football pitches – the solar farm is designed to generate up to 30 megawatts of renewable energy, which would be enough to power 8,400 homes.
It will be classed as a community-owned asset, with shares being sold to local people and organisations who then effectively become its owners, with any surplus revenue going towards funding projects of ‘community benefit’.
Applicant New Energy Wales – a community benefit society based in Cardiff – believes the project will be the largest community-owned solar farm in the UK.
Because the site covers both Wales and England, two planning applications have had to be submitted. Cheshire West and Chester Council had final say over the English aspect of the scheme. In Wales, the project is classed as a Development of National Significance and will be judged by the Welsh Planning Inspectorate with input from Flintshire County Council.
The Cheshire part of the land is almost 60 acres and is used for the grazing of sheep, which will continue. If everything goes ahead the solar farm will be dismantled in 40 years.
Concerns have previously been raised over the levels of flood risk at the site, as well as the development being on Green Belt land.
Speaking at yesterday’s (Thursday) planning meeting, committee member Cllr Myles Hogg said: “I’m a fierce defender of our precious green belt so the test I always apply is ‘are there any special circumstances?’. I believe that in this instance there are.
“The land, as we’ve heard, is not of high agricultural quality and the production of green energy is vital. So I believe that any green belt problems can be mitigated.”
If everything goes to plan, the target date for construction is this time next year.