Secretary of State throws out appeal into Colnbrook solar farm
An appeal into the rejection of an application to build a solar farm off Park Street in Poyle, was thrown out by the Government on Monday.
Sirius SBC Renewables had sought permission to build a “temporary” solar photovoltaic farm on farmland owned by the Rayner family, but the application was turned down at the end of last year.
In March, Sirius announced it would appeal the decision and in May a planning inspector visited the site. He subsequently recommended that the proposal would represent “inappropriate development in the Green Belt”, concluding that a 25-year planning permission should be considered permanent, and that it should be considered one of many cumulative impacts locally:
“… potential developments such the Slough International Freight Exchange (SIFE), the western rail connection to Heathrow, the Smart Motorway project and the proposed third runway at Heathrow all make Colnbrook and Poyle one of the most fragmented and vulnerable parts of the Green Belt. This means that any further development within this area will compound the overall harm and add to the cumulative impact upon the area.”
The Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, agreed that the solar farm would reduce the openness of the Green Belt, and would fail to check unrestricted urban sprawl. The developer had claimed in its planning application that the 3 metre high solar panels would be carefully screened and would not be visually intrusive.
Mr Javid also considered that there would also be “harm to the intrinsic character of the countryside and area generally” in the Colne Valley Regional Park and the Strategic Gap.
While the generation of renewable energy and low value of the farmland to be developed were positive points to the application the Secretary of State determined that they “would not clearly outweigh the substantial harm to the Green Belt” or justify the ‘very special circumstances’ test.
… the Parish Council neither supported, or objected to the proposal but considered the proposed funds could be put to good use in the parish …
Parish councillors courted controversy over the development, with several in favour of a £360,000 sweetener to the Parish Council over the 25 year lifetime of the project. Ex-chair Cllr Hood addressed the Planning Committee “in support of the proposed Community Benefit Fund that the application would bring about“. Shortly after the scheme was rejected by Slough Council he claimed the parish had not supported the development, only the possibility of additional funding.
The inspector’s report confirms that Sirius was “in the process of entering into a formal agreement with Colnbrook with Poyle Parish Council to provide a financial contribution upon commissioning of the proposed development”.
In January, the owner of the land, former Windsor mayor Cllr Colin Rayner, also criticised restrictions placed on developing the Green Belt.
Although the solar farm has been rejected by the Government, the future of the site remains uncertain. This Summer the Rayner family submitted proposals to Slough Borough Council to develop over 165 acres of land around the periphery of Colnbrook, including the farmland between Poyle Road and Park Street.
The Secretary of State’s decision letter and inspector’s full report can be viewed here on the Government website.