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Minister reveals new deadline date for Sunnica’s proposal for massive solar farm spanning West Suffolk border

Residents who have fought plans for a huge solar farm which would engulf villages in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire will have to wait another three months to find out whether their campaign has been successful.

Claire Coutinho, the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero was due to announce last Thursday whether Sunnica Ltd would be allowed to build the farm.

Instead she said she was moving the deadline to March 7.

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

Villagers living in Chippenham, Isleham, Freckenham, Fordham, West Row, Worlington, Burwell, Barton Mills, Red Lodge and Snailwell would all be affected if the farm, covering 2,700 acres, was given the go-ahead, with solar panels being installed within ten metres of people’s homes in some places.

After a long campaign, including lengthy public inquiries over several months, a decision was due at the start of 2023. This was later moved to September and put back yet again to December 7 when Ms Coutinho took over the role of Secretary of State from Grant Shapps at the end of August.

Ms Coutinho gave no reason for a further postponement when she presented a written statement to both Houses of Parliament on Friday as required by law.

Her statement read: “The current statutory deadline for the decision on the Sunnica Energy Farm application is 7 December 2023.

“I have decided to set a new deadline of no later than 7 March 2024 for deciding this application.

“The decision to set the new deadline for this application is without prejudice to the decision on whether to grant or refuse development.”

Dr Edward Fordham, who lives in Fordham and has been a vociferous opponent of Sunnica’s plans since 2018, said “Enough is enough. It’s make up your mind time, Ms Coutinho.”

“The decision due by law on 28 September was deferred. Now it is deferred again. The stress on those whose lives have been blighted for over four years is intolerable.”

Isleham Parish Council chairman Richard Radcliffe said people had been left completely in the dark by the failure of the Secretary of State to make a decision.

”It is the uncertainty that is the real issue and that has been the case since Sunnica first came up with this harebrained scheme,” added Cllr Radcliffe.

And Ms Coutinho’s former colleague on the Conservative benches, West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock was also critical.

“This decision should not have been delayed” said Mr Hancock. ”It should have been rejected and the huge worry for local residents finally put to rest.”