Solar panels

Article by Charles Thomson: A solar farm will remain on green belt land in Billericay until 2046, after councillors approved a six-year extension.

Local Tory councillor Andrew Schrader, who voted against extending the planning permission, said he was ’absolutely furious’ about the decision.

The solar farm was first approved in 2014, despite council officers telling members it was an ’inappropriate’ development of the green belt.

Councillors decided that generating solar power qualified as an ’exceptional circumstance’ which justified developing the green belt.

They approved the development – on a 26.4-hectare site in Outwood Farm Road – but added a planning condition which said that after 26 years – in 2040 – ’the use shall cease and the solar panels and all ancillary equipment shall be removed from the site’.

However, Basildon Council’s planning committee granted permission last night for the farm to remain in place until 2046.

The committee was split down the middle, so the decision came down to Labour chairwoman Adele Brown, who voted in favour.

Billericay Town Council and Great Burstead South Green Parish Council had both registered formal objections with the committee, on grounds that residents were led to believe the land would be restored after a specific period of time. But civil servants at Basildon Council annotated the objections in their planning report to say that this was not a legitimate planning reason to refuse permission.

The Billericay Action Group raised a series of further objections, which were not flagged as improper. The group said no justification had been given for the extension and added that the application had been filed ’prematurely’. It added that measures to mitigate the environmental impact of the solar farm – which were ordered at the time of the previous planning application in 2014 – ’have yet to be implemented’.

Two third party objections were also received regarding ’compliance of original planning conditions’.

Speaking after the vote, Cllr Schrader said:

“The Conservative members voted against it but everyone else voted for it. I was absolutely furious about it. The fact of the matter is, it has no business being there in the first place. In 2014, the council went against officers’ recommendation, which was to refuse permission because it was an inappropriate development in the green belt. In my opinion, it remains inappropriate. In 2014 it was granted temporary planning permission but one has to start to wonder what actually counts as temporary. One phrase that cropped up at the meeting was ’temporary in perpetuity’. We are three years in and they have asked for another six years. I heard absolutely nothing at the meeting that explained to me why they need another six years this early on. The damage the committee did in 2014 was simply perpetuated last night.”

Article by Charles Thomson, Yellow Advertiser

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