Rotherham Council approves solar panel installation on greenbelt for renewable energy generation

SOLAR panels are set to be installed across 287 acres of greenbelt after Rotherham Council placed the energy benefits over the loss of the agricultural land.

Banks Renewables — the firm behind Ulley’s windfarm — will build the 49MW capacity Common Farm energy park between Dinnington and North Anston.

Lisa Brooks, RMBC development manager, told planning board members this would generate enough electricity to power 18,800 homes a year.

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“That’s a significant amount,” she added. “The environmental benefits are considerable and the impacts are local. It’s not a site that’s visible for miles around.

“The impact on biodiversity will be mitigated. The biodiversity net gain will be enhanced by 69 per cent.

“We consider that the overall weight attached to the provision of renewable energy outweighs the harm to the greenbelt in this instance.”

Birdwatching groups raised concerns for the lapwings and skylarks which live on the site. As a result, 10.8 hectares within the site will be left vacant and maintained to allow them to continue nesting.

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Other mitigation measures include planting hedgerows, wildflowers and shrubs to encourage wildlife including bats, reptiles and small mammals.

In total, there were five objections — including from Anston and Todwick parish councils — and six letters of support.

Cllr Clive Jepson, Anston Parish Council, said consultation had been “a myth” — adding: “We had a one-hour meeting, got no answers and have not heard a further thing from them.

“If this is granted, it’s going to drive a coach and horses through Rotherham’s local plan. It’s going to open up that area, which is a buffer zone.”

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It was also unacceptable that some of the screening vegetation around the solar panels would not be in place for ten years, Cllr Jepson added.

Electricity from the site will be taken by cable to a substation at Thurcroft, for which a separate planning permission will be required.

A community fund will be set up to provide grants of up to £50,000 per annum throughout the 40-year lifespan of the solar farm.

At the end, a new application would be needed for the energy production to continue. Otherwise, the site would be decommissioned.

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Planning board members voted eight to one in favour of the plans last Thursday morning.

Cllr Rob Elliott, the only member to go against, said: “I’m old school. I think greenbelt should be sacrosanct.”

Final approval rests with the secretary of state due to the scale of the development.

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