Councillors today voted to defer a decision on the first of three planning applications which would see a 84MW solar farm network built on the Fens to help fund public services.

The planning committee of Peterborough City Council had been due to determine an application by a separate council department to build a 26MW facility at Morris Fen.

But it voted to delay a decision following a late representation by English Heritage, which reversed its original advice that archaeological investigations could be carried out after the application was decided.

In the letter, Deborah Priddy, inspector of ancient monuments at EH, said: “Expert representations have recently been made by professor Charles French of Cambridge University to your council and English Heritage, regarding the likely archaeological potential and the scale of harm which might be caused to heritage assets present.

“In the circumstances, we consider that it would be appropriate to require the completion of a programme of archaeological, palaeoenvironmental and hydrological work…prior to the determination of this application.”

Planning officers, before EH’s intervention, had originally recommended approval of the application at the meeting, but altered its recommendation in the light of the EH letter.

But Adrian Smith, a spokesperson for the council team working to deliver the project, said: “This decision will not delay the delivery of the project – it just changes the order in which we do things.”

The council also received a letter from communities secretary Eric Pickles last week warning the council that if it approved the farm then he would consider calling it in to be decided by a planning inspector following a public inquiry.

The Morris Fen farm would comprise 144,060 PV panels, infrastructure, plus boundary fencing.

It is part of a larger plan by Peterborough Council to install 84MW of solar panels on three fields totalling 364ha. One of the fields would produce 49MW, more than the UK’s existing largest solar farm in Leicestershire.

Under the plans, the installation would raise £30 million over 25 years by selling the electricity generated in a bid to raise revenue to protect services. This could rise to more than £110 million if a plan to add wind turbines to the sites is successful.

Smith said he hoped that all three planning applications would be submitted by the end of this year.