COUNCILLORS were torn between the need for renewable energy and preserving West Berkshire’s countryside, as plans to build a solar farm in Woolhampton went down to the wire.
INGR Solar had sought to build the 60 megawatt ground-mounted photovoltaic solar arrays on land owned by Wasing Estate to the west of gravel works off Station Road.
INGR said that the farm would provide the annual power needs of approximately 1,500 households and would save in the region of 3,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
The scheme was discussed by councillors at a meeting of West Berkshire Council’s eastern area planning committee last week, and had been recommended for approval by officers.
Planning officer Bob Dray said that the benefits of producing renewable energy outweighed the fairly limited harm on the countryside.
However, the chairman of Brimpton Parish Council, Charles Brims, disagreed and said that the solar farm would be the wrong development in the wrong place.
Mr Brims questioned why the council had sought to approve the plans when most of the reasoning went the other way.
He said the answer was clear, owing to the council having not identified sites for solar farms, and this scheme ticked a box.
Quoting government policy on solar farms, Mr Brims said that protecting the global environment was not an excuse to trash the local environment.
With hedges being planted to screen the farm, Mr Brims said that the open rural views across Brimpton would be lost if the solar panels were installed.
Concerns were also raised about the farm’s impact on nesting lapwings and skylarks in the area.
Also worried was Dominic Boeck (Con, Aldermaston), who said: “My concern is it will see fundamental change that it may not recover from.”
“We are not talking about minimal harm. I don’t want to see small rural settlements surrounded by these.”
The chairman of adjoining Woolhampton Parish Council, Tony Renouf, said that his council had supported the plans, albeit asking for three conditions. He said that the farm would supply neighbouring villages and would have very little impact visually on Brimpton or Woolhampton.
Brimpton resident Mary Cowdery then told councillors: “No one has the right to a view but everyone has a right to light. In this case it’s electric light.”
Referring to council reports Mrs Cowdery said that West Berkshire was lagging behind in its energy generation and that solar power would need to be generated locally to help reduce CO2 emissions.
“Thousands of homes are in the pipeline for West Berkshire and these homes will need electricity,” she said.
David Dean from INGR Solar said that, as sheep would graze in the solar farm field, the soil would be enriched when INGR pulled out in 25 years time.
“We are legally bound to exit the site. What happens to the site afterwards is down to the Wasing Estate and yourselves,” he said.
Asking members to support the plans, Peter Argyle (Con, Calcot) said: “I love our countryside. We live in a wonderful county but times change.
“We are being urged to build more and more houses and we are going to need the resources to do it.
“It’s poor quality farming land. It will be excellent use of it and its going to be screened and will enhance the wildlife.”
Saying that the consequences of building the solar farm needed to be considered, Quintin Webb (Con, Bucklebury) proposed that councillors refuse the scheme.
“I feel it would be a blight on the landscape and cause other issues in the countryside,” he said.
Mr Webb’s proposal was refused by five votes to four, with Pamela Bale (Con, Pangbourne) and Tim Metcalfe (Con, Purley-on-Thames) abstaining.
Emma Webster’s (Con, Birch Copse) proposal for approval was carried by five votes to four until Alan Law (Con, Basildon) used his chairman’s casting vote to overrule the proposal.
Mr Law then used his deciding vote to see the plans rejected.