Pickles intervenes to block 48MW solar farm approval

Eric Pickles has once again intervened in the planning approval of a 48MW solar farm that caused controversy in Test Valley, Hampshire.

The secretary of state for communities and local government addressed Test Valley Borough Council with a letter sent on Wednesday, informing the council he had placed a holding direction over the plans.

This prevents the council from issuing any verdict on the plans until he has considered whether to refer them under Section 77 of the Town and Council Planning Act 1990, granting him the power to make a decision himself.

Test Valley Borough Council had looked ready to grant the renewed plans, lodged by Germany-based Kronos Solar Projects in January, following a planning control committee meeting on Tuesday.

The expected approval comes despite an appeal against the original, 49MW plans having yet to be heard and the project’s planning officer Rachel Illsley twice recommending the project be refused planning.

Larger plans were originally filed in December last year but were swiftly rejected after the council argued that the “size and scale” of the project would have had an “unacceptable impact” on the landscape.

Kronos appealed the decision and a public inquiry was scheduled to be heard on 13 May, however scaled-back plans for a smaller farm were first approved by the southern area committee and then the borough council’s planning control committee.

The revised plans received the backing of nearby Broughton Borough council which had originally opposed the scheme, while a petition carrying 200 signatures in support of the proposal was also provided as supporting evidence.

This is not the first time Pickles has intervened in planning decisions regarding solar farms having overturned a decision to provide permission for a 24MW project on land at Ellough Airfield in Suffolk in October 2013.

However Pickles suffered embarrassment when the High Court reversed his decision and labelled his actions as “perverse”, and the project was finally awarded planning permission in March this year.