Renewable Connections is proposing a 75-hectare renewable energy scheme on land between West End Stagsden and Astwood across the Bedfordshire – Milton Keynes boundary.
It said the Cranfield Road Solar Farm will have a generating capacity of up to 45 megawatts. The proposed site lies within Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes.
The Chronicle asked Renewable Connections about its plans.
Why chose a location that covers three local authorities?
The site selection process is guided initially by national grid capacity and key site constraints. The process starts with the need to find an area where there is capacity in the National Grid. From there, Renewable Connections begin to search for flat land, away from major towns and villages, that is free from environmental and heritage constraints.
Such as green belt, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), listed buildings, conservation areas, Grade 1, 2 and 3a agricultural land (best and most versatile land), and so on.
The site has not been chosen because it stretches across three local authorities. But this is an outcome of the process designed to place the proposals in the most suitable, optimal area.
Whilst it makes our life a little more difficult preparing the applications and gathering advice from all three authorities, we feel it is worth taking this diligent approach in order to bring forward ‘good’ sites for solar development.
What would happen to the plans if one local authority refused planning?
We require all three local authorities to approve planning permission. This is the challenge, but we believe with a good level of cooperation and active working, a joint-up effort can work.
It is likely that Bedford Borough will act as lead authority, given that most of the site falls within their administrative area. They will communicate with Milton Keynes and Central Bedfordshire to ensure a cohesive approach.
There are two power stations being built not that far away (incinerator and gas-powered), so why not build the solar farm there as there is plenty of space, along with the infrastructure to connect your power to the grid?
In addition to the points outlined above, it is noted that the two power stations are located at the Rookery. The additional land there is a) owned by another party, we cannot force them to accept our solar project on their property and b) is subject to an ongoing Low-Level Restoration Scheme (LLRS), to restore the former clay workings to agricultural land. This scheme has its own planning consent and must be implemented – we cannot build a solar project here whilst this is ongoing.
In addition, whilst there is existing infrastructure to connect a project to the grid, the power stations are connecting to the Marston Road substation, which our heat maps show is very constrained (ie there is no available capacity here). As such, we would not be able to get a grid connection for our solar project in this location and it is simply an untenable site both commercially and technically. Renewable Connections does not develop or build thermal plant such as those mentioned about, our focus is to deliver renewable energy projects in the most suitable locations across the UK and we believe that renewable energy, generated locally, is the most sustainable, resilient and important step to a net-zero carbon future.
The site will be subject to “considerable biodiversity and landscape enhancements”, please describe these enhancements.
Solar farms are a unique form of energy generation, in that a net gain in biodiversity can often be achieved on site. We are proposing a robust set of measures to ensure that the biodiversity value of the site is enhanced as a result of our proposals.
It is a key aim for all Renewable Connections’ projects to achieve biodiversity net gain on site through the restoration of local habitat, retention and planting of additional green infrastructure, planting and management of species-rich wildflower meadows beneath the solar PV arrays to benefit local invertebrate populations which are seasonally grazed by local livestock such as sheep, and the implementation of a variety of other biodiversity and landscape enhancements which are managed through a Landscape and Ecological Management Plan (submitted to and approved by the Local Planning Authority following public consultation).
These include the installation of small mammal gates, barn owl boxes, bird nesting boxes, bee hives, log piles, restoration of traditional field boundaries, and other hibernacula such as small buried rubble piles suitable for reptile species, amphibians and insect life.
The landscape and ecological strategy are informed by ongoing communication with the Local Planning Authority and the local community.
These measures will not only ensure that the biodiversity value of the land is enhanced but will strengthen the existing boundary hedgerows and plant additional native species hedgerows to ensure that the solar arrays remain visually discreet within the local landscape. These measures will be set out in a Planting Strategy, submitted to and approved by the Local Planning Authority following public consultation.
What will be the increase of man-made light in the area once the site is operational?
There will be no man-made lighting on site. Lighting will only be used in the event of an emergency.
What is the site’s current average night-time ambient noise now, and will this increase once the site is operational? If so, by how much?
A noise assessment will accompany a future planning application. This will assess the baseline levels of noise on site and will model the noise impact of the proposals.
Villagers close to the proposed site have formed the West End Solar Farm Action Group to fight the proposal to build the solar farm. It has started a petition to help to evidence the strength of feeling against the solar farm.
The current public consultation on the proposal runs until 17:00 4 September 2020. Details on how you can send your views to Renewable Connections can be found here: