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Sandridge solar farm is turned down

Campaigners in Seend.

Campaigners in Seend.

WILTSHIRE Council has rejected a planning application to build an 80-hectare solar farm to the east of Melksham.

The proposed Sandridge Solar Farm was rejected by the council’s strategic planning committee last week due to the size and scale of the solar farm which councillors decided would dominate the landscape and have a negative impact on those living in the area.

The decision was expected to be made last month, but councillors felt a site visit was needed before they could make a final decision on the application.

The controversial plans had caused outrage amongst residents in Seend and led to a campaign group called Wiltshire Protect being formed to oppose the plans. Members of the group attended the council meeting, led by local resident Jack Churchill who was given three minutes to give a speech opposing the plans.

The large site would have generated enough power to generate electricity across the whole town and would have also provided a community fund worth over £1million to Melksham with £44,000 paid per year over the 25-year lifetime of the solar project.

Speaking to the Melksham News, Wiltshire Protect organiser Jack Churchill said, “We are really pleased and feel the council made the right decision which is very commendable as there was some pressure on them to accept the project.

“The money on offer from the community fund was discussed at length at the meeting which is wrong as that should be a separate issue to the planning application – which is what should have been the main focus. However, we are just pleased the council made the right choice for the people of west Wiltshire.

“We as a group are not against renewable energy but we do want the farms to be placed in the best areas to benefit everyone. The solar panels should be placed on the huge building units on industrial sites where the landscape cannot be compromised.

“The decision by the council has not led to us opening the champagne as we know this might not be the end. It goes on and it is likely I would have thought that the Sandridge Solar Farm team will appeal the decision, but we as a group will do all we can to protect the area that we all enjoy currently.”

The Sandridge Solar Farm project received support from MP Duncan Hames, Melksham Without Parish Council and Melksham Town Council. However, Seend Parish Council opposed the proposal.

Following a visit  to the proposed site MP Duncan Hames said, “Like all developments, solar farms should be sensitively located and designed. When I visited the site of the Sandridge solar project, I was struck by how secluded and well screened it appears to be. If it goes ahead it could power all of Melksham with clean energy when the sun is shining.

The Wiltshire Council planning report said, “We recognise that large scale solar farms can have a damaging effect on the landscape. Furthermore, when taken together with the existing solar farm at nearby Craysmarsh, the development would have an unacceptable cumulative impact on the landscape of the area and an unacceptable cumulative visual impact when viewed from nearby public rights of way; from the A3102 at Sandridge and from Seend Ridge to the south. This would conflict with the Government’s Planning Policy guidance.”

Sandridge Solar Farm has 12 weeks to appeal the decision by Wiltshire Council’s strategic planning committee.

What do you think? Should the Sandridge Solar Farm application be accepted? Email news@melkshamnews.co.uk with your thought.