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Mid Suffolk District Councillors forced to refuse massive solar farm at Badley despite voicing support

Mid Suffolk councillors have been forced to refuse a large solar farm despite voicing their support.

Proposed by Elgin Energy, the project would have seen 14,000 homes being powered for a total of 40 years, occupying a portion of land at Woodlands Farm, in Badley, spanning 57.71ha — nearly the same size as 70 football pitches.

Despite this, planning officers suggested the application should be refused on the grounds of significant heritage harm coming to several listed buildings nearby, and a lack of a noise assessment.

Credit: Mid Suffolk District Council
Credit: Mid Suffolk District Council

Although most councillors from the district’s planning committee voiced their support, they ultimately decided to follow the officer’s recommendations.

Cllr Sarah Mansel, the committee’s chairman, said it had been a hard decision to reach as the council attempts to move forward with its green goals — a key factor in its recently-approved Joint Local Plan.

Cllr Mansel added: “It’s quite difficult to assess the harm of a building because, for instance, people might have objected to Badley’s church when it was first built, but it has now become part of the landscape.

“The listed buildings of today were perhaps the eyesore of their time.

“But we do have a duty to protect these buildings, that’s why they’ve been listed and what I feel about historic buildings is not necessarily what they are all about.”

Cllr Nicholas Hardingham, one of the few in the committee who argued against the proposal, and moved for its refusal, warned against this view.

He said: “Badley is an absolutely stunning place, and I would recommend anybody to go look at it before approving anything which may cause harm.”

Although 28 objection letters were received regarding the development, it was the councillors’ view that the project had the support of residents, including several who owned some of the listed buildings, a contrast to other solar farm projects planned for the district.

Cllr Ross Piper, who represents the ward, said: “I am in full support of the application, and I think more of the public would be too they understood the benefits of solar farms. Love or hate them, PV panels are the future.

“The ability to produce electricity from sunlight is truly remarkable and we need to harness this form of electricity generation as much as possible if we are to have a sustainable future.”

With 90 per cent of the project having been proposed to be on 3b agricultural land, labelled as ‘moderate quality,’ concerns over food security and the use of farmland to accommodate big solar projects were brought up.

Although Cllr Mansel acknowledged the recent rise in applications for solar farms in the county, she also stressed the importance of these projects for its future development.

She explained: “You need enough energy and you need enough food to live so you have to weigh one up against the other.

“Suffolk may be harder hit because we’re a sunny part of the country, but at the moment, the amount of land we’re using for solar farms is not large in terms of the whole landscape.

“We need both and we’ve got to get that balance right.”