A controversial 172-acre solar farm will go ahead after a planning inspector ruled that Norfolk councillors were wrong to reject the plans.

The proposals for the farm - roughly the size of 86 football pitches - was rejected by West Norfolk Council's planning committee last year.

Councillors had turned down the plan for the 49.9MW Meerdye Solar Farm, on land at Harps Hall Road at Walton Highway, near Wisbech, despite borough council officers recommending approval.

Fourteen councillors had voted against the scheme, with two for and one abstention.

They did so saying it would lead to an unacceptable loss of agricultural land and the adverse visual impact of the solar panel arrays would not be outweighed by the benefits of renewable energy.

Eastern Daily Press: The solar farm will be built near Walton HighwayThe solar farm will be built near Walton Highway (Image: Google)

West Walton Parish Council and Walsoken Parish Council had objected, but Marshland St James Parish Council supported the scheme.

Applicant Downing Renewable Developments appealed against the borough council's decision - and a planning inspector agreed the scheme should go ahead.

Government-appointed inspector Cullum Parker said the harm to the landscape would be "very limited and localised" and would fall to a "very low level" after five to seven years once newly-planted hedges grow.

READ MORE: Go ahead for new solar farm at Sedgeford in Norfolk

On the loss of farmland, he said: "The agricultural land would not be ‘lost’. It can continue to be farmed, albeit in a different way, with the grazing of sheep or similar animals.

"What is more, at the end of the life of the solar farm, in 30 years time, the relatively simple act of removing metal stakes and associated infrastructure from the site would allow its use to return to arable farming."

Downing Renewable Developments welcomed the appeal verdict, saying the farm would produce enough power for up to 12,000 homes each year.

Eastern Daily Press: Tony Gannon, head of Downing Renewable DevelopmentsTony Gannon, head of Downing Renewable Developments (Image: Downing Renewable Developments)

Tony Gannon, head of Downing Renewable Developments, said: “Receiving this planning consent is a major milestone for us.

"But, more importantly, this project will contribute to reaching UK net zero targets and offer significant benefits to the local area including contributing to alleviating energy poverty with our long-term free domestic solar installation programme."