Council refuses planning consent to 5MW solar park after construction

Planning officials at South Northamptonshire Council have refused to approve changes made to a 5MW solar park built earlier this year, effectively stripping it of planning consent post-construction.

German EPC contractor Conecon had all but completed construction on the £6 million Shacks Barn Farm Solar Park near Silverstone at the end of March before it was forced to halt work and wait for the project’s owners, Moser Baer, to re-apply for planning consent.

Indian firm Moser Baer acquired the Shacks Barn Farm site from developer Hive Energy when the project received planning approval in August last year. That approval was granted on the basis of an indicative layout of the project supplied by Hive Energy.

As Moser Baer and its contractor Conecon began to build the project it made a number of changes to the scheme layout. The Indian firm notified the council of the changes at the same time as building the scheme in an attempt to hit the March 31 deadline of being able to receive 2 Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) per MWh rather than the new rate of 1.6 ROCs per MWh.

Despite the council’s own planning officer’s recommendation that retrospective consent be given to the revised scheme, Moser Baer’s application was refused by officials on the council’s Development Control Committee when it met last month.

The controversial changes that have left Moser Baer needing to appeal the committee’s decision include: the number of rows of solar panels increased from 31 to 36; there are no gaps within these rows; some panels have been removed from the south-eastern corner of the site; and the inverter cabinets and control room have been moved to different locations within the site.

A report by the council’s own planning inspection officer supporting retrospective planning permission for the changes states that “the development remains fundamentally the same as the previous permission in terms of its siting, scale, purpose and operation”.

It goes on to say: “The increase in the number of rows is not considered to be harmful as the area covered by solar arrays continues to be contained within the original site area, albeit slightly more intensively and over a smaller area. The removal of gaps within each string of panels along with the slight reduction in the spaces between rows does give the development a more continuous, flat appearance than the approved scheme would but it is not considered that this increases its visual impact or makes the development unacceptably detrimental in the landscape.”

Despite this endorsement, councillors on the committee refused the application on the grounds of “the visual impact due to the prominent and publicly visible location set within a rolling landscape, and the inability of landscaping to soften the appearance”.

Neither South Northamptonshire Council or Moser Baer were available for comment.