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Huge solar panel farm could be built near Harborough

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A huge green energy scheme to build a solar panel park the size of 70 football pitches near Market Harborough has been pitched to Kettering Council.

The green energy plan would put about 125 acres of solar photovoltaic panels – equivalent to the size of 70 football pitches – on land 400 metres south-east of the edge of Harborough, between the A6 and the railway line.

Access to the scheme would be off a concrete farm path at the top of Kettering Road, Harborough, just before it joins the A6. Part of the site was previously occupied by a motocross track.

Thousands of south-facing solar panels would be mounted on metal frames up to three metres high, allowing for grazing to take place beneath them.

The solar photovoltaic park could generate at least 20MW of power, which would be enough to supply more than 6,000 homes, according to figures supplied by the Solar Trade Association.

The proposal, which falls mainly in Braybrooke, Northamptonshire, despite being close to Harborough, is in its very early “scoping report” stages, the Mail understands.

A scoping report sets out a description of a proposed project, with details of its environmental and other impacts, but is not yet an official planning application.

A spokesman for Kettering Council confirmed: “Ecus Ltd have submitted a screening and scoping opinion for the site. The local planning authority has responded, requesting that any future planning application is accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment covering matters as outlined in the issued scoping opinion, application reference KET/2014/0281.

“The details can be viewed on our website via the application reference number.

“We await a planning application, which will be dealt with and publicly consulted upon in the usual way.”

The site, which would be called Braybrooke Solar Photovoltaic Park, would have a capacity of about 20-25 MW, putting it in the medium-to-large category of British solar energy parks.

It would take about six months to build, including the laying of underground cables and the building of an electricity sub-station, which Ecus Ltd says would be “approximately the size of a large garage”.

It has been proposed by a small company called SLP Energy (Braybrooke) Ltd, based in Spixworth, near Norwich, via environmental consultants Ecus Ltd, which is based in Sheffield. Ecus has so far not responded to several requests by the Mail for a comment about the scheme.

The proposal was first drawn to the attention of the Mail by reader Karen Stanley who said: “It is potentially a very large development on high ground above the railway line and will be visible for miles.”

County and Harborough district councillor Sarah Hill said: “I’ve no problem with it, as long as there isn’t any detrimental visual impact on the town.

“Given the lie of the land, it looks like it will only be visible from some considerable distance.”

The Ecus report says the panels would be located on the side of a valley, and will be most easily viewed from roads to the south including Braybrooke Road and Harborough Road.

But the report says additional landscape planting would help to screen the site.

And it claims that the number of residents in the so-called Zone of Theoretical Visibilty (ZTV) is “not high”.

Darren Woodiwiss, co-founder of green group Transition Town Harborough, said that his group would, in general terms, “welcome any renewable and sustainable energy source”.

He said: “We all know we have an energy gap forming in the UK. We would be particularly interested in a scheme that created locally generated electricity for local residents.”

James Beard, a spokesman for the Solar Trade Association, said: “A scheme like this, if it’s well positioned and well screened, is an asset. It’s all about how well planned it is.”

Site selection is crucial issue

Solar parks are not automatically a good thing – you have to keep a close eye on the planning process.

That’s the view of the Council for the Protection of Rural England .

The CPRE says: “The increase of inappropriate wind farms and solar photovoltaic (PV) parks threatens to severely damage our matchless countryside.”

Paul Hayter, chairman of CPRE Northamptonshire, said that any new solar PV park should meet five important criteria.

Firstly, it should be on a site where the local topography limits its visual impact.

Secondly, it should not harm the views in sensitive or valued landscapes.

Thirdly, it should not harm views from settlements or public rights of way.

It should also not significantly affect the setting of settlements and finally, it should have a minimal impact on food production.

Northamptonshire already has a solar PV park, near Towcester, Mr Hayter said.

He said: “I would say that’s not an example of a good solar farm. It would probably not get planning permission now, because it’s more visible than anyone expected.”

But really it all depends on the site, claims Solar Trade Association press officer James Beard,

“If it’s planned badly, it will generate the ire of the public – and that’s entirely understandable,” said Mr Beard.

“But we encourage best practice in terms of site selection and site screening.”

Leonie Greene, head of external affairs for the Solar Trade Association, added: “Some of the earlier solar parks in Britain were done badly. But what we find is that when these parks are done well, they’re well received,”

Solar farm fact file

The total ‘footprint’ of the proposed solar park could be 172 acres. Of this, about 125 acres would be covered with the solar photovoltaic panels – equivalent to the size of 70 football pitches.

It would be on south-facing on land south-east of Harborough, between the A6 off Braybrooke and the railway line.

Panels would be mounted on metal frames up to three metres high.

It could generate at least 20MW of power, enough to supply more than 6,000 homes.

A recent YouGov poll revealed that 74 per cent of British people want more solar power. The same poll said 67 per cent thought solar power was a realistic way of combating climate change.

 

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