Agenda item

21/00077/FUL Land adjacent Fen Farm Judds Farm and part of Bulphan Fen, Harrow Lane, Bulphan, Essex


The report was presented by Lucy Mannion. Since the publication of the agenda, the following updates had been received:

  • A response from Highways England who had no objections to the application.
  • A response from Havering Council who had no objections in principle.
  • An additional objection from the owners of Fen Farm who had also submitted the same objection previously.


Steve Taylor sought clarification on the battery storage and how the solar energy stored would be discharged to the energy grid. Lucy Mannion answered that the power would be discharged directly to the grid and needed to be near a substation.


Councillor Little asked how many hectares were 18 arable fields. She also questioned how Thurrock would benefit from the proposal. Lucy Mannion answered that 18 arable fields was equal to 138 hectares. She explained that the proposal would bring clean energy and lower carbon emissions to Thurrock which was beneficial for Thurrock and the country. Matthew Gallagher pointed out that the proposal was for up to 49.9MW of clean energy and if this had been over the 50MW mark, the application would have gone directly to the Secretary of State for determination and Thurrock Council would have been a consultee in that only. He stated that planning policies did not require an Applicant who was promoting clean energy to justify the need for more energy and that as traditional thermal generation stations had gone out of commission there was a clear need for new clean sources of energy. There was a need to consider green energy which would be a nationwide benefit and not just a borough wide benefit. He said that a local benefit would be that the proposal would increase biodiversity on that site.


Councillor Little said that the Fens were special to the people of Thurrock and that everyone should have been consulted on the application. She agreed that energy was needed but pointed out that green spaces were also needed. She noted that there had been no objections in regards to archaeology but pointed out that Fen Farm was a historical bronze age farm. She stated that the geese on the site was not mentioned in the report either and that Bulphan was famous for these geese. Lucy Mannion explained that the archaeology advisor had looked at the information on the application and considered the application to be acceptable as long as any archaeology on the site was not affected. Referring to the ecological survey report in 6.89 of the report, Matthew Gallagher said that the site was not a designated nature conservation site and that arable fields and farmland tended to be relatively sterile sites with regard to ecological interest. The Applicant had undertaken habitat and species surveys which did not reveal much interest other than some in the hedgerows with nesting birds. He said that he understood the point about geese but there was no known link between the location of solar farms and incidences of bird strike. He referred to a previous case in East Tilbury which had been close to a mud flats site that was a special conservation area. However, he pointed out that the surveys had been undertaken and the ecological advisor had no objection subject to mitigation measures which included a 10 metre buffer for wildflowers to grow to increase the biodiversity on the site.


The Chair questioned why the Applicant had chosen to keep the energy output lower than 50MW which left the decision in the hands of the Planning Committee. Matthew Gallagher explained that the application process through national government was a longer process that could take up to two years. He said that changes to the thresholds for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects allowed for battery storage schemes above 50MW to be considered as normal planning applications.


The Chair commented that there needed to be alternative solutions as solar energy was not effective in the winter months and felt that the solar farm would obliterate the Fens. He felt a site visit was needed. Matthew Gallagher explained that the alternatives highlighted in the report referred to other potential sites and the current location was a key location due to its proximity to the Warley substation that would allow the site to easily connect to the power grid. If an alternative location was used, time and money would be spent on making the power grid connection which was costly, therefore there was no alternative site for this proposal. As the site was in the GB, he explained that the harm to the GB would have to be assessed and based on the landscape advisor’s report and the applicant's environmental statement, it was considered that one would have to be very close to the site or within the site to notice the significance of visual impact to the GB. Officers had assessed the harms and benefit of the application to the GB and had considered the harm to be clearly outweighed.


Councillor Akinbohun asked whether the proposals would impact upon people’s health. Lucy Mannion answered that there were various information from other sources that found toxins from solar panels to be harmful but some other sources would disagree. The service went by the British Standards on solar panels. Matthew Gallagher added that the noise and air quality implications had been considered and that the Environmental Health Officer had considered there to be no impact.


Councillor Polley asked whether the 49.9MW of energy would be over the site area of 138 hectares that was within Thurrock’s borders or if this would be on the overall site of 143 hectares. Matthew Gallagher answered that the Thurrock part of the application was of the solar panels which was 138 hectares and that the remaining hectares was for the grid connection within Havering’s borders so it would be 49.9MW.


Councillor Polley said that the Fens were ancient fenland and geese had been there as it was once a wetland so it was a natural flood plain. She was concerned on the use of electricity here. She noted that the Applicant needed to provide 3 months’ notice if they were to cease operations on the site and was concerned over how the batteries would be safely disposed of. She also pointed out that the site was a large amount of land that could be used for food production, once it was returned to its organic state, and food production had been an important issue in the press recently. Matthew Gallagher said that the service was aware of the flood risk on the site and that a sequential test had been undertaken. It was found that the important components of the battery storage and substation proposed would be located in the areas of the site that had the lowest flood risk. With the disposal of the batteries, he said that if the batteries were hazardous, these would need to be disposed of safely. On agriculture, he agreed that government guidance was that grades 1, 2, 3a should not be used for solar farms and the Applicant had carried out the assessments that identified the site as grade 3b which was below average. Therefore there would not be an in principle objection to the loss of land but the balancing act of harm to the GB still had to be assessed.


Councillor Piccolo questioned what would the minimum energy output be. He was concerned that the Applicant may not maximise its energy output. Lucy Mannion explained that the minimum energy output could not be controlled but as it was a business, it would seek to maximise its output.


Speaker statements were heard from:

  • Joy Jarvis, a resident – in objection.
  • Barry Johnson, Ward Councillor – in objection.
  • Simon Wheeler, Applicant – in support.


The Chair asked if there was a solar farm in South Ockendon and whether it had been built yet. Matthew Gallagher confirmed that there was permission for a solar farm to the south west of this site within South Ockendon but there was no solar panels in place yet.


The Chair noted that there was a lot of opposition to the proposals in a rural area which he felt suggested that there would be a visual impact as Bulphan had different levels of land. He said that the site was on a hill and would have a visual impact from afar particularly as the poles were 3 metres high. Lucy Mannion explained that the immediate visual impact would be on Fen Farm, Judds Farm and Glasshouse Retreat. There would be a minimal impact for other residents looking out of their windows as hedgerows would be planted. Matthew Gallagher explained that the environmental impact statement from the Applicant had detailed a theoretical zone of influence that the proposal would have in terms of potential visual impact. Unless one was inside the site or very close to the site, the visual impact would not be very significant. Fen Farm would be affected but they would not be overshadowed and other properties down Harrow Lane would not be affected due to the distance from the site.


Steve Taylor stated that he disagreed with the assessment of the proposal’s impact to the GB. He said that the openness of the GB would be taken away and destroyed even with the hedgerows planted as there would no longer be an open view. He raised concerns over the safety of the batteries as there had been articles in the media where batteries on solar farms had exploded. He pointed out that battery storages were unregulated in the UK.


The Chair felt that he needed to see the site as he was not familiar with the area or what a solar farm looked like. The Committee commented that they wished to see a travel plan as the building of the site would increase traffic in the area and to also see the routes into the site. The Committee wished to see where the batteries would be placed on the site and to have a 3m pole placed on the site to view the visual impact. Photos of Fen Farm flooding was also requested. The Committee requested to see the Lower Dunton Farm site that had similar proposals but officers highlighted that the applications were separate and had to be assessed on its own merits. As the site was large, officers explained that it would take some time organise the site visit and the Committee suggested that a minibus be hired to take them around the site and the routes into the site.


The Chair proposed to defer the application for a site visit and was seconded by the Vice-Chair.


FOR: (8) Councillors Tom Kelly (Chair), Steve Liddiard (Vice-Chair), Gary Byrne, Terry Piccolo, Georgette Polley, Lee Watson, Abbie Akinbohun and Susan Little.





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