A proposed 44MW solar farm in Wiltshire has been refused planning permission despite being recommended for approval by planning officers.  

The proposals put forward by Sandridge Solar Power received no objections from statutory consultees over the potential 80.5 hectare site, with three out of four local Parish Councils expressing support for the development. However, at a strategic planning committee meeting the solar farm was refused planning permission.

The committee cited the adverse visual impact of the site and its large size as the reason it refused permission, with seven members voting against the proposals and four in favour.

Commenting on the planned solar farm, Nigel Williams, chairman, CPRE West Wiltshire, noted the rise in solar farm applications in the region: “Normally, we would not object to this proposal. However, given the size of the planned development (the largest in UK), with its 170,000 solar panels spread over 199 acres, together with its accompanying control buildings, we believe the cumulative effect when added to other sites (approved and proposed in the immediate vicinity – Broughton Gifford, Craysmarsh, Poulshot, Coulston and Marston) would inevitably change the landscape character of the site, and have a simultaneous adverse impact on the natural scenic qualities of the area.”

According to the Wiltshire Council Green Energy Team, the county currently has 124.5MW of approved capacity spread over 23 applications on 303 hectares of land across Wiltshire.

Writing on behalf of Wiltshire Clean Energy Alliance, Sophy Fearnley-Whittingstall countered that the project “would make an important contribution of around 10% to Wiltshire's renewable energy targets. As wind is not currently considered a viable renewable technology in Wiltshire because of the policy of separation distances, the county will need to rely increasingly on solar power to meet its targets – and this scheme will generate enough power to supply most of the homes in its neighbouring town of Melksham, which can only be a good thing.”

If approved, the site would have generated enough electricity to power 11,387 homes annually, saving over 500,000 tonnes of CO2  emissions over its 25-year project lifespan. In addition, the developer committed to grazing sheep on the land as well as creating biodiverse meadows across the site – in accordance with the Solar Trade Association’s 10 Commitments.   

Sandridge Solar has confirmed that it will be appealing the decision.

The UK solar sector has experienced strong growth in 2014, installing 1.1GW of ground-mounted solar ahead of the April ROC deadline. As a result, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has admitted in the UK Solar Strategy that it underestimated the level of deployment of solar farms and that left “uncorrected”, large-scale solar could “erode the approval rating of the sector overall”.