Council u-turn on plans for solar farm on landfill site near Bedford

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Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) has made a u-turn on defence at an appeal of its planning committee's refusal of a solar park.

A solar farm scheme on a landfill site near Bedford, deemed “overbearing” and “devastating for local wildlife”, could be approved after the local authority opted not to defend its case at a planning appeal.

Applicant Infinis Solar Developments Limited submitted a minerals and waste application to install a solar park and other infrastructure at Brogborough landfill site in Lidlington.

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Its proposals included “an array of ground-mounted photovoltaic panels” on 168 acres of mainly restored agricultural and meadow grassland.

Close up of solar panels. Image: NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images.Close up of solar panels. Image: NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images.
Close up of solar panels. Image: NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images.

Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Sue Clark said on social media: “I’m appalled to learn CBC’s Independent administration has withdrawn its case to defend a decision to refuse planning permission for a solar farm on the Brogborough landfill site and failed to notify us.

“This isn’t about the merits of solar farms, but about the way the local authority has behaved.”

A high density of ground nesting skylarks breed where the panels would be installed, according to a report to Central Bedfordshire Council’s development management committee.

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“Their displacement is one of the main harms because their breeding habitats aren’t compatible with the panel structures,” said the report. “The scheme would have an adverse impact on both landscape character and visual amenity.

“A section of the landfill gas power station compound, no longer operational, remains on site with internal access roads.”

The planning Inquiry was due to begin on Monday (June 24). Councillor Clark explained: “I argued strongly that it should be refused because the farm would destroy the nesting sites of a large skylark population.

“It would also ruin the amenity value of the not yet fully restored landfill site, with its extensive network of footpaths and wide-ranging views over the Marston Vale.

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“This would delay the restoration of the site for all of our benefit by another 40 years. The Forest of Marston Vale and several neighbouring parish councils, including Cranfield, Brogborough and Marston Moretaine, objected.

“The application didn’t conform to CBC’s own policies, especially as there was no mitigation offered with the application for the loss of the skylark habitat. This is a policy requirement, and so the plans were rejected.

“I was astonished to learn by chance that CBC has decided to withdraw its case and not defend that decision because of new evidence provided by the applicant.

“Senior Independent councillors have known about this since early June and failed to tell ward councillors, parish councillors, CBC’s own development management committee or members of the public who objected.

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“The planning appeal will begin on Monday. But only third parties, such as myself and the parish councils, will present evidence against the application. It’s unclear what evidence CBC has relied on to change its mind.

“If extra information has been provided by the applicant, it hasn’t been made public,” she added. “As this was a development management committee decision, it should have been informed and consulted.

“This is the second time this year CBC has failed to defend a planning committee decision at appeal. This is a question of council procedure, upholding the democratic process and transparency.”

CBC has been asked to comment.

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