A decision to strip a 5MW solar farm in Silverstone, Northamptonshire of planning consent post-construction has been quashed on appeal.

In May last year planning officials at South Northamptonshire Council refused to approve a number of changes made to the solar farm at Shacks Barn Farm during construction.

Indian firm Moser Baer and its contractor, Conecon, had made a number of changes to the layout of the £6 million solar scheme. However, in order to hit the Renewable Obligation deadline, the firm notified the council of the changes while it was constructing the park.

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.

The controversial changes that left Moser Baer needing to appeal the committee’s decision included: 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.

However, on appeal the inspector agreed with the appellant that the changes made to the site actually improved the visual impact of the development. The inspector, Andrew Hammond, noted in his report that “the development, as built, does not have a more urbanising effect than the permitted scheme…Any visual and landscape impact would not outweigh the contribution towards meeting renewable energy targets”. 

Speaking to Solar Power Portal, James Walker, senior planner, Pegasus Group, welcomed the appeal decision but stressed the importance of building to approved plans, he said: “This decision of the local council to refuse the planning application to regularise the development and to issue the enforcement notice demonstrates the importance for solar developers to construct schemes in accordance with approved plans or to seek amendments as soon as possible if variations are required, so to avoid falling foul of the planning process at the local level.

“However, the positive appeal decision demonstrates that schemes shown to be appropriately sited and designed will continue to be supported by the Planning Inspectorate.”