Huge solar farm coming to Merseyside will power 500 homes

A large-scale solar farm that will power almost 500 homes has been proposed for green belt land in Knowsley[1]. The company proposing the 1.5mw solar farm installation is Neighbourhood Services Company (NSC) - a social business based in Knowsley which provides a number of services including building construction and environmental landscaping. Representing the applicant at the hearing was planning agent Mr Carr who said: "We feel the package all together will deliver more than just green energy and I hope members recognise the scheme brings to the borough of Knowsley."

The NSC proposal could also deliver economic benefits and Knowsley Council[2] expect the scheme to boost the local economy and create various new jobs.

The solar farm would be located away from residential properties with the nearest dwelling over 200 metres away. The site consists of an area of flat, open field near the access slip to the M57 motorway and runs to the wooded area next to Knowsley Brook.

The application also includes provision for the building of a substation, a transformer structure, two gravel tracks and landscaping and biodiversity works. The plans also include additional biodiversity improvements such as the creation of a wild flower meadow to the south of the proposed solar panels. An important consideration for planners was the nature of the site which is designated Green Belt Land.

Policy CS5 (Green Belt) prevents use of Green Belt land except in 'very special circumstances' with applicants required to demonstrate that any potential harm - including to its openness, purposes or to its visual and recreational amenities - would be 'clearly outweighed' by other considerations. The National Planning Policy Framework defines 'special circumstances' and explains the planning system should support the transition to a low carbon future. Planners are advised to factor in the importance of even small-scale projects which provide a 'valuable contribution' to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Planning officer, Andrew Hunt presented the application to Knowsley councillors at a planning meeting in the Municipal Buildings in Huyton[5]. Mr Hunt detailed how the solar farm would be built on Grade 3b agricultural land - classed as moderate quality agricultural land. Grade 1 is deemed to be the highest quality.

As a result, My Hunt said: "It's loss would not be significantly harmful to the local environment." Consultations were undertaken with the Local Highways Authority, Liverpool City Council, Natural England (NE) and United Utilities and no objections were lodged. However, the Merseyside Environmental Advisory Service (MEAS) said a habitats regulations assessment was needed as well as a lighting scheme to avoid harm to bats and birds.

Furthermore, a preliminary Ecological survey said the solar farm would not have any harmful impact on local wildlife. Cllr Del Arnall asked whether any public rights of way around Larkins Farm and Gellings Lane would be infringed by this project and was assured no such infringement would occur. Overall, the planning team stated the positives outweighed any potential harm and recommended the approval of the applicant's proposal.

In support of the development, Knowsley Council said the project will generate significant amounts of renewable energy, (1,350,000kwh per year) boosting energy security and reducing carbon emissions.

NCS stated the solar farm would generate enough electricity to power approximately 500 homes.

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