March 7 2014 Latest news:
Alex Hurrell, Reporter
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Planners have given the go-ahead for one of England’s biggest solar farms to be built on a redundant Norfolk RAF airfield.
The farm, which will feature nearly 200,000 solar panels, will be installed on about 91 hectares of land at the former RAF Raynham site, near Fakenham.
Members of North Norfolk District Council’s (NNDC) development committee approved applicant Good Energy’s plan by eight votes to three.
Consent is hedged with conditions listed in a report by planning officers which include the provision of at least £25,000 to repair the neighbouring grade two listed control tower, and talks with highways officials to agree an access route to the site during the construction period of up to 26 weeks.
And councillors added an extra condition, requiring Good Energy to rethink chopping down a copse on the site.
The applicant says it would cast a significant shadow on an area of solar panels but councillors did not believe it would make much difference.
Pauline Grove-Jones said: “It seems such a shame to lose it. It breaks up that huge sweep of panels with nothing happening among them.”
Richard Palmer spoke on behalf of Good Energy at the meeting. He said the 49.9MW farm would power about 11,000 average households.
The land was chosen because it had “a very high level of sunshine”, was a brownfield site, close to electric grid lines, relatively flat and slightly raised above the surrounding area, and it was well screened. The large hangars and control tower would still dominate.
He said they proposed planting extensive areas with wildflowers, mixed with grass, and were talking to a landowner about allowing sheep to graze the site during its 30-year lifespan. They would also be making an annual financial contribution to the local community.
John Perry-Warnes said: “It seems to me to be a good use of this land.”
The surrounding parish councils of Raynham, Helhoughton and Weasenham had not objected to the scheme.
Photographs were shown to the committee which showed that it would be difficult to see the solar farm from Weasenham Church or from the Helhoughton Conservation Area, answering two English Heritage objections.
Norfolk County Council’s historic environment service raised objections based on West Raynham’s Cold War heritage. It was home to the Central Fighter Establishment and became one of the primary Bloodhound missile sites in the country. Its central role in the Bloodhound system gave it national significance.
But Phil Godwin, NNDC’s conservation, design and landscape manager, concluded that there would be “relatively little inter-visibility’ between the site and nearby heritage assets.
He added that the public benefit of the electricity produced was so considerable that: “the development cannot, on this occasion, be resisted on built heritage grounds.”