Parish Council offers support for Solar Farm on Green Belt … in exchange for £14,000 a year payout

Colnbrook Parish Council has come out in support of the proposed solar farm in Poyle after developer SBC Renewables offered to give the parish a £14,000 Community Benefit Fund.

solar farm

Parish councillors agreed to offer their support to the proposed solar farm development at their last meeting on November 3 after Dr Clive Weatherby, representing SBC Renewables, talked councillors through changes to the plans and outlined details of a Community Benefit Fund.

The proposal would see photovoltaic panels erected on farmland fronting the Hilton Terminal 5 in Poyle, adjacent to the old Bath Road, generating between 3.8 and 4.5 MWh of power to the National Grid.

Following an objection from the Environment Agency with regard to flood plain capacity original drawings had been amended to remove a concrete beam which would have stopped the flow of flood water.

In its Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment SBC Renewables had claimed that, “due to the historic use of the landfill and to preserve the integrity of the cap all site infrastructure will be sited above ground, the solar arrays set upon ballast blocks or a low penetrating ground mounting system”.

Dr Weatherby told councillors at the meeting that, although the site is within the Green belt, the Strategic Gap and the Colne Valley Park, because the application is for renewable energy, in Planning Policy terms it can count as “special circumstances” that allow for development on such sites.

Sirius SBC Renewable's plans for a Solar Farm in Colnbrook.  The individual panels can be identified from the drawings.

Sirius SBC Renewable’s plans for a Solar Farm in Colnbrook. The individual panels can be identified from the drawings.

However, in view of the impact on the Colne Valley Park, SBC Renewables “would look into mitigating concerns” by establishing the fund. He asked the Parish Council to consider how such a fund could be administered and what form this would take should planning permission be granted.

The Community Benefit Fund would be based on £3,800 per MWh generated so would be expected to contribute £14,000 per annum, index linked, for the 25 year life of the project.  Part of the Fund should go towards the development of the Colne Valley Country Park while the rest would be used for enhancement of the parish.  The Fund would be instead of the normal S106 contribution that major developments would be expected to pay to Slough Borough Council, and that may prove a sticking point when the application goes to Planning Committee.

Parish councillors, while raising only minor concerns about the visual impact on neighbouring residential properties and businesses when they discussed it in September, have expressed enthusiasm for the scheme.

“… all thought that the Community Benefit was a bonus and all were happy to accept the proposal.”

Cllr Jackson thought that it had been very good, clear and concise.  Cllr Kinane felt that with new planting to infill the holes “you would not know it was there”.

Cllr Smith declared an interest as he is on the Borough Planning Panel and took no part in these discussions. In April, however, he told Colnbrook Views: “Letting any part of our Green Belt go is the thin edge of the wedge, and I would oppose it [the solar farm] on that basis.”

No objections had been received from local residents, Dr Weatherby said.  However no consultation end date has yet been set for the application, nor a date for it to go to Planning Committee.

 

What parish councillors asked about the proposal

  • Would there be public access/bridle ways on the site?  Not at the moment because of security issues but could be look into.
  • When would the Fund come on line?  It would commence from when it is connected to the National grid.
  • How were the plans amended from the EA objection?  Moved back from the brook and solar panels in the S W corner have been put flush into the ground with no concrete beam which would have stopped the flow of flood water. The land will be managed as a grass sward with wildflower mix beneficial for butterflies, insects and reptiles.
  • How will the residents benefit? Improve quality of life at any level in any way.
  • Will the site have CCTV?  No but it will be monitored remotely and there will be a response unit it motion sensors are triggered.
  • Are there any apprentiship opportunities?  Not really during the construction process as very low key, but the fund could be used to set up training in renewable energy sources.
  • Will there be a night watchman?  Only during construction.
  • Is the Community Benefit Fund separate to any section 106 agreement with Slough Borough Council?  The preference is to have a private agreement with the Parish Council rather than a 106 with the Borough.
  • Will the substation on the northern tip be screened?  It will be green in colour to blend in as part of the planning conditions and there is some infill planting.
  • How will the site be secured during construction?  Security fencing around the compound and then the site.
  • Are you obliged to provide the Fund?  There is no obligation to do this it is a ‘gift’ to the community and would have to be spent geographically in the parish for the environment and social wellbeing. Examples include Nature Reserves, improving accessibility, new community facilities, childrens play.
  • Could you provide a model ‘Heads of Terms’ agreement for the parish to consider?  Yes

 

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