Solar farm plan for land near Bedford recommended for approval

Bedford Borough Council's Local Plan is to protect the area from speculative developers, unless "material considerations indicate otherwise"
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Plans for a large solar farm planned for land near Bedford have been recommended for approval – despite the land not being flagged in the local plan as suitable for one.

The applicants, Renewable Connections, said the proposed development near Stagsden will have a maximum export capacity of up to 45.5MW, and will supply enough renewable energy to power up to 11,500 homes.

But nearby residents opposed to the plans see this 79.64ha site (46.64ha in Bedford Borough, 21.04ha in Milton Keynes and 10.96ha within Central Bedfordshire) as a “speculative application” – as the development isn’t on land listed in the Local Plan 2030 as suitable for the purpose.

The site of the proposed solar farmThe site of the proposed solar farm
The site of the proposed solar farm

A council spokesperson confirmed that “one of the reasons for our Local Plan is to protect the area from speculative developers”.

But council officers have recommended the solar farm application for approval, and committee members have been asked to look at this application in isolation of the plan and its policies when it comes before them on Monday.

The report says councillors are asked “to take a pragmatic stance on this issue when determining the application”.

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The proposed locationThe proposed location
The proposed location

A council spokesperson said: “Planning decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis.

“In some instances, policies in a plan – as required by and approved by the government – can tip the balance of an application in one direction or another.

“Section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 states that ‘the determination must be made in accordance with the plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise’.

“Decision makers are legally required to sometimes consider whether a proposal aligns with the development plan as a whole, rather than being compliant with every single policy.

“Therefore, they must consider the importance of the various policies in question and the scale of any potential breaches of a local plan. Without a local plan, no meaningful powers at all would exist to challenge poor development.

“Members of the Planning Committee are yet to make a decision on this application and so far have only received a recommendation.

“We expect a formal decision to be made at the meeting on 26th September 2022.”