Plans to fill three agricultural fields with solar panels have been blocked by Mid Suffolk District Council, having been previously approved by Babergh District Council.

The proposal which pitted renewable energy production against local food production was refused by Mid Suffolk District Council’s planning committee this week.

The site includes land to the south of Church Farm in Somersham and land to the east of the channel in Burstall.

A quarter of the land is in Mid Suffolk and the rest falls within Babergh’s boundaries. Babergh District Council approved the solar farm by six voted to five last week, but Mid Suffolk’s decision overturned the plans.

Approximately 75 percent of the 35-hectare site is classed as ‘best and most versatile’ (BMV) land, which means it provides the most effective, productive and efficient ground for growing crops. The application was for a 40-year change of the land’s use from agriculture to site for solar panels, after which the landowner and applicant state the site will be reinstated as farmland.

The plans were for the energy generated to go to the national grid. According to officers, it would have covered the usage of approximately 7,450 homes and saved 6,250 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Every parish and town council representing nearby areas has objected to the proposals and

the vast majority mention the loss of agricultural land as a reason.

James Rook, vice chairman of Somersham Parish Council, said at the meeting: “I am a farmer and a farmer’s son. This community doesn’t believe we should be putting solar panels on some of the best farmland in the UK – and in fact the world.

“The greenest thing we can do is grow our own food on our doorsteps. Our community understands a farmer’s motivation to receive £1,000 an acre guaranteed for 40 years rather than working very hard for around £150 an acre.

“We feel this may be a wise choice for the individual and not for the community. This is a green trojan horse, and if you vote for this you will be opening the door unnecessarily to the loss of much-valued countryside.”

Cllr John Field, who represents Somersham alongside other areas, said: “The problems with climate change make it imperative that we change many aspects of life.

“However, it is foolish to sacrifice agricultural land from a large area of BMV farmland. Please reject this application and instead encourage installation of solar panels on the rooves of domestic and commercial property.”

The size of the site was cut to less than one third of the applicant’s earlier plan, which was for a 102-hectare solar farm.

Simon Chamberlayne, head of planning at Enso Energy – the agent for applicant Bramford Green Limited – said: “We have significantly reduced this scheme in scale and size as a result of feedback from communities and statutory consultees. No statutory consultees object to the development and no land will be lost to it, as it will be temporary.”

The applicant could choose to appeal against the Mid Suffolk decision to attempt to bring the plans back to council. The landowner and farmer also spoke at the meeting and stated the development would enhance biodiversity, as the current farmland is “hostile to wildlife”.

Cllr Tim Passmore proposed refusal. Six Mid Suffolk councillors voted for this and one voted against – Cllr Rachel Eburne.

Cllr Eburne explained she was “on the fence” before making this vote. She said: “I think we would all like to see solar panels on warehouses instead of agricultural land, but that is not what we are discussing.

“One of the issues we have in Mid Suffolk is that we don’t have a specific policy for the community value of land or land for food production, and I think that would be helpful. In the planning committee we are not experts – we are councillors. This application is complex and it is in a lovely area of Suffolk.”

Out of the 189 letters, emails and online comments on the application, 186 are objections. This controversial solar site joins others in Suffolk. In December last year, West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock and Suffolk County Council deputy leader Richard Rout criticised the planned 2,792-acre Sunnica solar energy farm.

Sunnica would span four sites in West Suffolk and East Cambridgeshire. This year, renewable energy company Energyzo Ltd has proposed a 103-acre solar farm just outside Haverhill and a Brandon farming business has been granted permission to install 506 solar panels on its site.

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