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University of Cambridge granted permission to build solar farm on South Cambridgeshire farmland

The University of Cambridge will build its own solar farm on South Cambridgeshire farmland to help meet its net zero targets.

The new solar farm is due to be built on farmland off Barton Road, and will be used to privately supply electricity to the university.

Illustrative image of what a view of University of Cambridge solar farm in Barton could look like one year after being installed.
Illustrative image of what a view of University of Cambridge solar farm in Barton could look like one year after being installed.

It is expected to generate 30,457 megawatt hours per annum, which the university said will meet 26 per cent of its energy needs.

A representative of the university told councillors at a South Cambridgeshire District Council planning committee meeting on Wednesday (July 12) that climate change was one of the “most pressing problems”.

They said the university felt “responsible to take a leading role in decarbonising the global economy”.

They told the meeting that the solar farm will not only help it to meet its net zero targets, but will also reduce its demand on the regional electricity grid.

The representative said the equivalent power for 7,500 homes would be freed up for domestic use, if it was able to build the new solar farm.

The solar farm is planned to be in place for 40 years, after which the university said the land would be returned to agricultural use.

The representatives explained that this particular site had been chosen after considering the different bits of land owned by the university, and found that this was of lower quality farmland and was possible to put in a connection to send the generated electricity to the university. They added that an underground cable is planned to be installed.

The application had been recommended for approval by planning officers at the district council.

In a report to the committee it said that although it was considered “inappropriate development in the green belt”, there were benefits including the renewable energy and biodiversity net gain.

Cllr Mark Howell (Con, Caxton and Papworth) said the plans were “industrialisation of the green belt”.

He said: “I can’t see why we have to spread out into the countryside in a prime green belt area, there are other areas where we could put these solar panels first, and therefore I do struggle to see why we should accept this application.”

However, Cllr Dr Tumi Hawkins (Lib Dem, Caldecote), lead cabinet member for planning, said: “Whilst I hear Cllr Howell’s viewpoint, I do not believe that the individual installation of solar panels on buildings will actually give the level of quantity of electricity that is required to meet the same objective. Having said that, of course this is a green area.

“We are only going to require more electricity as we ‘go electric’ and in some ways we have utility provisions in the green belt, and we have looked at the balance, the balance of this provision outweighs the harm to the green belt in my view.”

When the application was put to a vote, the majority of councillors voted in favour of approving the plans.

The application will need to be referred to the secretary of state before any installation work can take place.

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