Sunnica solar farm: East Cambridgeshire district councillors unanimously oppose 2,500-acre plans
Sunnica’s controversial application for a massive solar farm in the countryside has been unanimously opposed by East Cambridgeshire district councillors.
They agreed they would not support the plans during a special hearing of the planning committee last week at Mandeville Hall in Burwell.
But because the Sunnica Energy Site is deemed a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), the decision on whether or not to grant planning permission rests with the Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), not council planners.
Sunnica wants to build a 2,500-acre solar farm, composed of 2.5-metre solar panels and 78 acres of battery storage, are across four locations, including the East Cambridgeshire villages of Isleham, Chippenham, Kennett and Snailwell; and Freckenham and Worlington in Suffolk.
The sites, Sunnica East and Sunnica West, will be served by infrastructure to connect them to the national grid at Burwell.
The plans are undergoing a six-month examination by the National Planning Inspectorate, which requires registered consultees to contribute their views.
The meeting last Thursday (November 3) enabled East Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning committee to consider its formal position ahead of a written submission by November 11.
Councillors heard representations against the application from Lucy Frazer, Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire, who represents constituents in Isleham, Snailwell, Chippenham, Kennett, Fordham and Burwell.
Cllr Anna Bailey, the Conservative leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, said that the council “supports the the production of renewable energy from solar”.
And she noted: “In fact, East Cambridgeshire tops the Cambridgeshire chart for megawatt hours generated from renewable sources in the district.”
However, she explained: “Our planning committee unanimously confirmed the view of officers that the benefits of the Sunnica scheme did not outweigh the harm that would be caused. The scheme takes away large amounts of food production land, provides no direct benefit to local people and is of a scale that is simply overwhelming to local communities, residents and businesses.”
Five objectors also spoke about issues relating to the safety of battery storage facilities, and the impact on the horse racing industry at Newmarket and on local farmers. A representative from Chippenham Parish Council spoke on behalf of residents who were against the scheme.
Presentations in support of the application were given by the applicant, Sunnica Ltd, and a member of the public who lives in Burwell, who spoke about the climate crisis.
Ms Frazer said: “Sunnica’s proposed solar farm would become the largest in Europe and multiple times the size of any existing or planned solar farm in the United Kingdom.
“Its size and poor design mean the three sites would effectively enclose six villages in my constituency. Added to this, I am concerned that Sunnica plan to build on farmland which is rated ‘best and most versatile’.”
Sunnica says its nationally significant energy farm would generate in excess of 50MW of renewable electricity.
The examination process is likely to conclude around the end of March, after which Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has three months to grant or refuse development consent.