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Decision on controversial Sunnica solar farm, affecting West Suffolk communities, delayed again until June 20

A long-awaited decision on whether a massive solar farm can be built on land around villages near Newmarket has been deferred once again.

Claire Coutinho, the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, was due to announce on Thursday whether to give Sunnica Ltd the go-ahead for the 2,500-acre farm, which is the equivalent of about 2,000 football pitches.

Today, she re-set the statutory deadline for the application to June 20.

A decision on the Sunnica solar farm on land around villages near Newmarket has been delayed again until June 20
A decision on the Sunnica solar farm on land around villages near Newmarket has been delayed again until June 20

Residents in Chippenham, Isleham, Freckenham, Fordham, West Row, Worlington, Burwell, Barton Mills, Red Lodge and Snailwell would all be affected by the solar farm, which has been met with fierce opposition.

Following the announcement, Matt Hancock, West Suffolk MP, said: “It’s time to put a stop to Sunnica once and for all.

“I am a strong supporter of solar energy but the Sunnica development is dangerous and in the wrong place. It needs to be rejected and the developers need to think again.”

Campaigners have been fighting Sunnica's solar farm plan for years
Campaigners have been fighting Sunnica's solar farm plan for years

The development application, which was the subject of several lengthy public inquiries, was set to be decided at the start of 2023.

This was later moved to September and then back yet again to December when Ms Coutinho took over the role of Secretary of State from Grant Schapps at the end of August.

In December, on the day her decision was due to be announced, she gave no reason for a postponement of another three months setting a new deadline which expired on March 7.

This was again pushed back to April 11.

The Say No to Sunnica Community Action Group said the farm would be built on some of the UK’s best, high-yielding irrigated farmland.

Isabel Cross, a member of the action group, said: “The announcement today is highly frustrating but we have to remain hopeful that the Government is constantly reviewing this application because it’s seriously flawed.

“It’s a bad design, it’s in the wrong place and there are now so many applications of this size in the pipeline around the country that it flies in the face of some of the statements from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero that they’re discouraging the use of high grade land for solar farms and encouraging development of non-agricultural land and rooftops.”

She said she hoped common sense would ultimately prevail and the scheme would be rejected.

“This is a poor scheme, it won’t be carbon neutral in its lifetime, it’s inefficient and will industrialise our landscape forever.

“Hopefully someone will see sense.”

Before the decision was delayed again, Dr Catherine Judkins, who leads the action group, said: “Residents here are generally very pro-solar, but polls taken over the past years consistently show over 90 per cent are opposed to the Sunnica plan.

“At a time of global food insecurity, it is sheer madness to take some of the UK’s best food-producing land out of production when we know that there is plenty of room for solar on rooftops and car parks that can be delivered relatively quickly and at relatively low cost, not to mention solar on brownfield sites, genuinely unproductive land, etc.

“Solar doesn’t have to be done the Sunnica way – in fact, it should not be allowed to be done this way.”

Nick Wright, a local farmer, said Sunnica’s claims the land was poor quality were unsubstantiated.

“You only have to drive around the vast area included in the scheme and look at the crops growing to see that this is not the case,” he said.

“It is high-yielding, irrigated farmland with water storage – exactly the type of land that we need to protect in the UK because it is best suited to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”

Sunnica Ltd has previously said the proposals meet an urgent national need for new sources of renewable energy generation.

It said its site selection process assessments found the area to be a suitable location for a development of this size.