Science Museum and Swindon Council arm win planning consent for UK’s largest solar farm

Swindon Council’s planning committee has announced the authorisation of planning consent for a 40MW solar farm due to be installed at the Science Museum’s big object store in Wroughton, Wiltshire.

At a council meeting last night, Swindon Borough Council’s planning committee authorised the head of planning to approve the proposals. As a result, the plans will now be referred to the National Planning Casework Unit, where communities secretary Eric Pickles will have 21 days to review the application.

If approved, the proposed project would supersede the current largest solar park in the UK: Lark Energy’s 32MW development at Wymeswold Airfield, Leicestershire

The development is a joint project between Swindon Commercial Services Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Swindon Borough Council, and the Science Museum Group. The world famous Science Museum in London can only display a small fraction of its collection at any one time and so uses the disused airfield in Wroughton to store the rest. The proposed plans will see 160,000 PV modules installed across the airfield’s land.

The Science Museum predicts that the large-scale solar installation will allow the group to become effectively carbon neutral. Although the Wroughton campus consumes minimal electricity, the Museum’s historic Kensington base is an extremely heavy consumer of electricity.

Commenting on the decision to authorise the solar farm plans, Matt Moore, head of Wroughton site, Science Museum Group, said: “Solar farms should be sited appropriately and sensitively – this is a great location; it’s semi-industrial land, close to a major town. It will provide a secure and reliable income to help the Science Museum continue our work conserving the national collections and improving conditions on site.”

The 40MW solar farm will cover 67 hectares of unused land sited across the old airfield and is expected to produce enough electricity to power 12,000 homes a year. In addition, the developers will set up a community benefit fund worth £40,000 a year for the local area. Local residents will also be given the opportunity to invest directly in the solar farm, allowing them to take a stake in the project.

James Owen, commercial director at Swindon Commercial Services, added: “This project has had outstanding support from the local community throughout, so we are extremely pleased that Swindon Council has authorised its approval. Residents of Wroughton will benefit from a community fund of £40,000 a year, and it will help put Swindon on the map as a greener place to live and work.”

This story was updated on 11 December to clarify the relationship between Swindon Commercial Services and Swindon Council