The borough council’s plans to combat climate emergency received a major boost last night when plans for a new solar farm in Barkham were approved.
The plan will see 67,340 solar panels installed on farmland to the north and south of Barkham Ride generating enough renewable energy to power thousands of local houses as well as reducing carbon emissions.
The approved proposals include the planting of nearly 11,000 new trees on the site, wider landscaping to improve biodiversity and the creation of a new Greenway to better link Arborfield, Barkham and Finchampstead to the existing network of public rights of way to the north.
The planning committee added a request that the council explore the opportunity for the current tenant farmer onsite to continue with shared use of the land for livestock grazing.
“This solar farm is a major part of our plans to help tackle the climate emergency and we’ve put a lot of time and thought into getting it right,” said Cllr Gregor Murray, executive member for resident services, communications and emissions. “The panels will generate around 29.63MWp per year, which is a massive amount and roughly the same as offsetting the carbon footprint from all our council properties combined.
“I am also pleased that we’ll be exploring the option of allowing continued grazing on the site. If that is practical for all concerned, it would be a great outcome.”
Now the plans have been approved, the council will start the process of procuring a contractor to install the panels. Work is not expected to start before late spring or early summer next year.
Installation of the panels will cause minimum disruption to the land with the panels mainly mounted on posts driven into the ground or, where this is not possible, weighted down with concrete blocks. At the end of the 25 years for which permission is being sought the panels could be easily removed and the land changed back to open farmland again.
Cllr Murray continued: “We know residents have been concerned about the loss of farmland and whether this development would change the status of the land to brownfield after its use. I’d like to reassure them that this is not the case and, under current planning law, at the end of the 25-year planning process it immediately reverts to its current use. Any changes to this would require completely new planning applications closer to the time
“We requested 25 years as we believe it’s the right time scale for this use. We hope technology for solar panels will continue to evolve over the coming years and we simply don’t know what the requirements or priorities will be this far ahead. It also means the panels will be in place long enough to ensure the project funds itself by selling electricity generated on site.”
Papers for the planning committee can be viewed on the council website at www.wokingham.gov.uk.
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