Wood Lane Solar Farm will produce local clean energy contributing to national energy targets
Biodiversity net gain for the area over the lifetime of the project
Dual use of land with clean energy production and sheep farming
One-off community benefit fund to be administered through Sturton-le-Steeple Parish Council
Bassetlaw Core Strategy and Development Management Policies (2011)
The proposed Wood Lane Solar PV project lies within the Bassetlaw District Council area, making the Bassetlaw Core Strategy and Development Management Policies (2011) the relevant Local Development Plan (LDP) for the determination of the application. All Core Strategy and Development Management Policies are interrelated and will be considered together to ensure that all applicable issues will be addressed as part of the application.
One of the key objectives of the Core Strategy is to reduce CO2 emissions, and take a lead role in delivering the infrastructure required to support the move towards Zero Carbon.
Therefore, the principle of the proposed Wood Lane Solar Farm is widely supported by the Core Strategy. Policy DM 10 Renewable and Low Carbon Energy is of particular relevance to the Development. Policy DM 10 seeks to promote renewable and low carbon energy infrastructure projects, so long as the built, natural and historic environment is safeguarded. Other policies relating to Landscape, Design, Biodiversity and Archaeology will be considered as part of the Planning Application.
Sturton Neighbourhood Plan 2015 – 2030 (2016)
The proposed Wood Lane Solar PV Farm lies within the boundary of Sturton Ward and is therefore covered by the Sturton Ward Neighbourhood Plan. The Localism Act 2011 provides the opportunity for communities to develop their own plans for their neighbourhood.
The Sturton Neighbourhood Plan has now been formally “made” i.e. passed by Bassetlaw District Council following a referendum held on the 11th February 2016 and sets out planning policies for the area for the period 2015-2030. The Neighbourhood Plan now forms part of the existing statutory Local Development Plan for Bassetlaw and shall be used when either applying for planning permission or determining planning applications within the Neighbourhood Plan Area.
A key policy objective of the plan is to promote sustainable development, in particular the reduction of CO2 emissions. And to encourage renewable energy generation, but not at the expense of the local landscape character, natural and historic assets.
Policy 14 Energy Efficiency and Sustainability proposes that renewable energy projects will be supported where they are appropriately sited within the wider landscape, where they will not have an unacceptable visual impact, and where they will not detrimentally impact features of biodiversity importance. Policies relating to flood risk and the protection of natural and historic assets, will be considered through the planning application.
Draft Bassetlaw Local Plan (Planned for February 2021)
The draft Bassetlaw Local Plan sets out strategic policies which are intended to guide development should the plan be adopted by the Council as planned for February 2019. Once adopted, the Bassetlaw Plan will replace the 2011 Core Strategy and Development Management Policies.
The draft Bassetlaw Local Plan addresses a number of key themes, relevant to the development of renewables. In particular, the draft plan aims to facilitate development opportunities that will enhance Bassetlaw’s economy through the delivery of new and the expansion of existing enterprises, providing jobs across urban and rural Bassetlaw, whilst protecting natural and historic assets.
One of the key objectives of the plan is to increase resilience to climate change through improved flood mitigation, better energy and water efficiency, and support for renewable energy production. The Council is keen to support more renewable and low carbon schemes in Bassetlaw where they are appropriately located. Therefore, the proposed Wood Lane Solar Farm draws support from the draft Local Plan, where Policy 14 Renewable and Low Carbon Energy is of particular relevance. Policy 14 seeks to address the effects of climate change, whereby the Council will support appropriately located low carbon and renewable energy schemes where it is demonstrated that they will not result in unacceptable impacts on environmental amenity or the character of the built and natural environment.
Please note that the Sturton Neighbourhood Plan is being revised in line with the Draft Bassetlaw Local Plan.
Size and Location of Development
Prior to the public exhibition on 29th May 2019 the location and size of the proposed development was informed by a process of design, engineering analysis and site suitability issues. The site location was also determined by its proximity to existing grid infrastructure.
First a preliminary constraints analysis was carried out taking into account topographical considerations, proximity to local designations and a robust analysis of environmental designations. This was also informed by a specific review of landscape and visual considerations, particularly regarding the set back of the development from Wheatley Road.
Following the public exhibition, Elgin Energy EsCo Ltd. is reviewing the feedback provided by local stakeholders and will apply the feedback where possible to amend the site design.
Community Benefit Fund
Elgin Energy EsCo Ltd. will work with Sturton-le-Steeple Parish Council and local organisations in the area to provide a substantial one-off community benefit fund to support the rural generation and sustainability of communities within the locality.
Community benefit funds can be used to support the following initiatives:
Provide, maintain or improve community buildings;
Provide community and public transport improvements;
Improve digital and mobile connectivity in the local area;
Increase access to activities or services for the community within the area of benefit;
Encourage skills, employment and improve rural business opportunities and social enterprise;
Community owned energy projects;
Offer sport, recreation and improved health and wellbeing.
Flood Risk Assessment
The Environment Agency (EA) Flood Map for Planning shows that the development is located in Flood Zone (FZ) 1, an area described as “low probability” of flooding (comprises land assessed as having a less than 1 in 1,000 (0.1 %) annual probability of river or sea flooding in any year). Despite this, given the site area exceeds 1 hectare, a Flood Risk Assessment will be submitted with the planning application, to meet the requirements of the Environment Agency (EA), Bassetlaw District Council Strategic Flood Risk Assessment Volume Three Technical Summary (“the SFRA”) and National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
The FRA considers all sources of flooding including:
As identified the site is in Flood Zone 1. Oswald Beck (catchment area of 180 ha) is located in the northern part of the site and drains from west to east, before discharging into Wheatley Beck approximately 1.5 km north east of the site boundary. Given the small catchment area and the cross-sectional area of the beck, it is unlikely to overtop during the 1:100 year event. As such, the risk of the development flooding from fluvial sources is considered to be negligible.
Pluvial (Surface water)
The EA Risk of Flooding from Surface Water Map shows that minor sections of the site are located in an area at risk from pluvial flooding (generally in the north). During the site visit pluvial flooding to a depth of 100 mm was observed in places. Electrically sensitive infrastructure, such as the substation and the inverters, have been located outside these areas and the finished floor level will be 300 mm above ground level. The electrical connections on the PV arrays will be located on the upper edge of the panels and therefore well above ground level and would still function should areas of the site be under water. As such, the risk of the development flooding from pluvial sources is considered to be negligible.
Borehole records from approximately 900m west of the site show that groundwater was encountered at 39m below ground level. The site is underlain by mudstone of the Mercia Mudstone Group. The British Geological Society (BGS) identify that the “Mercia Mudstone Group is generally of low permeability and transmits groundwater mainly through fractures in the occasional thin, impersistent siltstones and sandstones that are present”. Given the lack of shallow groundwater to the west and low permeability of bedrock at the site, flooding of the development as a result of groundwater fluctuations is considered unlikely and the risk is considered to be negligible. Tidal flooding and flooding from reservoirs and drainage were also assessed and considered to be negligible.
The site is greenfield and following initial studies appears to be well drained by sandy agricultural soils. The existing network of agricultural tracks will be used where possible during the construction period limiting the requirement for new hardstanding. Where new tracks are required, a permeable aggregate will be used. The area under the panels will be seeded with a suitable grass / flower mix, to prevent erosion and any potential increase in surface water run-off rates, which has been calculated to be negligible across the full site. With the implementation of suitable planting (such as a wildflower mix) the ground cover is unlikely to generate surface water runoff rates beyond the baseline scenario as arable fields. Where necessary, consideration will be given to the need for drainage swales if any attenuation is required for surface water run-off.
Public Rights of Way
There are a number of public rights of way which cross the solar farm or pass around its perimeter. These routes will remain in place with the development and there will be no permanent closures or diversions of the rights of way. During construction temporary closures of rights of way which are subject to direct impacts from the development (i.e. those which will be used by or crossed by construction traffic) will be required. Where possible residents will be kept informed of construction programmes.
Transport and Access
Access to the development is proposed via Wood Lane (currently a bridleway and access route to Field Farm), south off Wheatley Road. A number of passing places may need to be introduced along the section of road to allow construction traffic to safely pass each other.
Construction traffic will pass along the A631, A620 Saundby Road, Sturton and Gainsborough Roads past West Burton Power Station and on to Station Road and Wheatley Road. The route avoids the local settlements of Sturton-le-Steeple and North and South Wheatley.
With the speed limit of 40mph in place the requisite visibility splays of 120m in either direction from the junction of Wood Lane and Wheatley Road can be achieved, subject to the relocation of a section of hedgerow.
Ecology and Environment
An extensive ecological assessment of the site was undertaken by Arcus Consultancy Services Ltd. within the optimum survey season in 2018. The work included a desk study, Extended Phase 1 habitat survey, great crested newt Habitat Suitability Index assessment and e-DNA survey and breeding bird survey.
Great crested newt e-DNA surveys undertaken on site found no evidence of these species in habitats on and surrounding the site. The arable farmland habitat which dominates the site is considered unsuitable to support local populations of amphibians and reptiles.
The layout of the development ensures there will be no loss of existing trees or hedgerows within the site. The retention and extension of existing hedgerows will strengthen the landscape character and can lead to improved biodiversity of the site.
Ecological Enhancement and Landscape Proposals
A number of ecological enhancements will be implemented to increase biodiversity and ensure habitat protection in and around the site. Hedgerow and woodland will be retained on site ensuring habitats for brown hare, hedgehog, and other mammals and invertebrate species are preserved.
Species-rich grassland will naturally develop under the PV panels and surroundings as the land will not be under intensive agricultural use. This will result in increased biodiversity on site.
Security fencing located around the site perimeter will have sufficient gaps positioned at the bottom of fences in order to allow small mammals to continue to access and use the habitats on site during the operational period.
Additional measures incorporated into the design also include:
Enhancement of existing landscape features and new planting i.e. shrubs and native species;
Grass and wildflower mix will be introduced between the rows of panels to encourage further biodiversity;
Enhancement of local wildlife through the introduction of wide ecological corridors, bird boxes and insect hotels;
Existing field boundaries will be retained;
Natural maintenance of site by grazing sheep, retaining an agricultural use of the land.
To learn more about solar farms and how the measures outlined above can increase biodiversity onsite, please read the BRE National Solar Centre Biodiversity Guidance for Solar Developments.
Agricultural Land Grade
A detailed Agricultural Land Classification (ALC) survey was undertaken in 2018 by Soil Environment Services Ltd. The ALC system provides a framework for classifying land according to the extent to which its physical or chemical characteristics impose long-term limitations on agricultural use.
The ALC system divides agricultural land into five grades (Grade 1 ‘Excellent’ to Grade 5 ‘Very Poor’), with Grade 3 subdivided into Subgrade 3a ‘Good’ and Subgrade 3b ‘Moderate’. Agricultural land classified as Grade 1, 2 and Subgrade 3a falls in the ‘best and most versatile’ category in Paragraph 170 and Annex 2 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Further details of the ALC system and national planning policy implications are set out by Natural England in its Technical Information Note 049.
A detailed ALC involved examination of the soil’s physical properties at 112 locations located on an approximate 100m x 100m grid. A soil pit was hand-dug with a spade in order to examine and describe soil physical properties, such as soil structure, stoniness and depth to a slowly permeable layer (SPL), in more detail.
The ALC survey determined that the surveyed area comprised almost 112 ha of Grade 3b and 5.4 ha of Grade 3a. Small areas (2.2 ha) were classified as Grade 5 of non-agricultural land.
In summary only a small proportion (less than 5%) of the agricultural land quality at the site of the proposed solar farm constitutes the best and most versatile land. The majority does not constitute the best and most versatile land.
The life expectancy of solar panels is approximately 30 years. After this time the site is decommissioned in line with the list of planning conditions attached to the decision notice. A decommissioning plan is put in place and it is envisaged that decommissioning of the solar farm would take approximately 4 months. This process involves all equipment being removed and the site being restored to full agricultural use. Once decommissioned the solar panels will be recycled to recover essential materials such as glass, metal and essential elements and the remaining waste dealt with in an environmentally responsible manner.
Elgin Energy EsCo Ltd. or their successor in ownership of the proposed solar farm, are required to fully fund the removal of the solar panels and associated equipment with the development at the end of its operational life. This approach adequately ensures all equipment is removed and the site is fully restored to its original state.