Installation of renewable led energy generating station comprising ground-mounted photovoltaic solar arrays and battery-based electricity storage containers together with substation, inverter/transformer stations, site accesses, internal access tracks, security measures, access gates, other ancillary infrastructure, landscaping and biodiversity enhancements.
The committee considered planning application P20/S4360/FUL for the installation of renewable led energy generating station comprising ground-mounted photovoltaic solar arrays and battery-based electricity storage containers together with substation, inverter/transformer stations, site accesses, internal access tracks, security measures, access gates, other ancillary infrastructure, landscaping and biodiversity enhancements on land to south west of Cowley Substation, Nuneham Courtenay.
Consultations, representations, policy and guidance, and the site’s planning history were detailed in the officer’s report, which formed part of the agenda pack for the meeting.
The planning officer reported that the report contained an error in listing Councillor Elizabeth Gillespie as one of the local ward members, but this was not the case. The planning officer also reported that this application was wholly located within the Oxford Green Belt, and for this reason would require referral to the secretary of state in the event of planning permission being granted. The planning officer advised the committee of the revised recommendation, which was read out to the meeting. The wording was “to grant planning permission subject to: (i) Referral to the Secretary of State under the terms of the Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009; and (ii) Subject to the application not being called-in by the Secretary of State for determination, grant planning permission subject to conditions”.
The planning officer reported that the site was located to the south of the Oxford Science Park and to the north of Nuneham Courtenay village.The site comprised six arable fields which were of agricultural quality, ranging from very high quality to moderate quality. Most of the land surrounding the site was also in agricultural use. The proposed development would involve taking arable land out of intensive agricultural production and replanting the land with grassland for grazing sheep during the operational phase. It was intended that the permission would last for a period of 35 years.The application had been updated on several occasions during the planning application process, with additional information submitted in relation to heritage, ecology, landscape and archaeology. The application plans were also revised, to increase the buffers to the public footpaths and to remove panels from field 6 due to its status as grade 2 agricultural land. Also, across the whole proposal, a large proportion of land would be retained for agricultural purposes and would help preserve the habitat of nesting skylarks. The area would benefit from a proposed skylark mitigation area.
The planning officer also advised the committee that the proposal would employ relatively new tracking technology, which was described by the applicant as highly efficient, where the panels, aligned on a north-south row, would track the movement of the sun throughout that course of the day. The environmental health officer had confirmed that no discernible noise would emanate from this installation. It was estimated that the proposed development would generate 45 megawatts of renewable electricity, which was estimated to be sufficient power for 11,700 dwellings.
The committee was advised that the site was crossed by two public rights of way, one of which formed part of the Oxford Green Belt Way. The committee were shown a plan, which was an extract of the ordnance survey map, depicting the footpaths. The county archaeologist had agreed that an area be identified as archaeological mitigation to preserve the archaeological interest on the site, and had made recommendations to the council regarding the proposed planning conditions. The committee was also shown a number of slides depicting the site from several directions, which demonstrated its topography and likely visual impact of the proposed development.
The committee noted paragraphs 6.13. and 6.14 of the report regarding ‘Green Belt - very special circumstances’. The planning officer reported that council officers had attached significant weight to the fact that the development was inappropriate development in the Green Belt. Further weight was attached to the harm caused by the development to the openness of the landscape, owing to the presence of structures on land that was currently agricultural and free from obstruction.Due to the size and nature of the development, officers considered that the proposal was inappropriate. National and local policy was clear, that for this application to be successful, there must exist very special circumstances to justify the use of Green Belt land for such a proposal. The committee also noted paragraphs 6.13 to 6.15, which stated that in order to outweigh the harm to the openness of the Green Belt, there must be very special circumstances for allowing the proposal. Paragraphs 6.71 to 6.73 concluded by listing the detailed justifications for such a departure, a principal reason being that significant weight would be attributed to the need to provide additional energy from renewable sources and the considerable wider environmental benefits associated with increased production from renewable sources. Other reasons included good screening, limited harm and duration, visual impact mitigated by planting and net gain in biodiversity.
Councillor Stephen Dance, a representative of Baldons Parish Council, spoke objecting to the application. A statement by Baldons Parish Council had been sent to the committee by the democratic services officer prior to the meeting.
Ms. Debbie Dance, a representative of Oxford Preservation Trust, spoke objecting to the application. A statement by the Oxford Preservation Trust had been sent to the committee by the democratic services officer prior to the meeting.
Mr. Simon Wheeler, the agent, spoke in support of the application. In response to a question from the committee regarding the apparent relative low electricity yield of this site, compared with sites of a similar size, Mr. Wheeler replied that more land per panel was required for these mobile panels, but this did allow for simultaneous grazing of livestock.
Councillor Sam Casey-Rerhaye the local ward councillor, spoke objecting to the application.
In response to a question from the committee in respect of the actions to be taken when the permission had expired, the planning officer reported that a condition specifically limited the length of the development to 35 years and the land would be returned to agricultural use thereafter. Non–return of the land would constitute a breach of planning conditions. It was important to note that the returned land would not be classified as brownfield. Also, a decommissioning method statement would be required from the developer, and this was the subject of recommended planning condition 19.
A motion moved and seconded, to refuse planning permission failed on being put to the vote.
A motion moved and seconded, to grant planning permission was declared carried on being put to the vote.
That planning permission for application P20/S4360/FUL is granted subject to the following actions (i) and (ii) and conditions 1 to 19, as set down below:
(i) Referral to the Secretary of State under the terms of the Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009; and
(ii) (ii) Subject to the application not being called-in by the Secretary of State for determination, grant planning permission subject to conditions”.
1. Time Limit for commencement
2. Approved Plans
3. Temporary permission
4. Landscaping details
5. Landscape Management Plan
6. Vehicular access improvements
7. Construction Traffic Management Plan
8. Archaeological watching Brief
9. Implementation of Archaeological works
10. Construction Environmental Management Plan
11. Tree Protection
12. Visibility Splay Details
Prior to first use
13. Sustainable Drainage Scheme
14. Archaeology protection
15. Flood risk
16. Wildlife Protection measures
17. External lighting
18. Removal of unused panels
End of the temporary period
19. Decommissioning method statement