SOLAR panels will cover 23 acres of land on the Oxford Green Belt after planning permission was granted.

Despite being able to generate renewable energy, applicant Générale du Solaire, chose a controversial site to build the 5MW ground-mounted park on as it will sit on land south of Minnis Farm in Yarnton, near Kidlington.

The applicant’s planning agent, Pegasus Group, had to show Cherwell District Council that the benefits of the solar park would outweigh the harm to the Green Belt.

Pegasus Group provided planning and landscape expertise and managed to secure consent.

Générale du Solaire is working on the project jointly with Oxfordshire-based social enterprise Low Carbon Hub.

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Pegasus Group’s principal planner, David Pickford, said: “Due to the location of the site within the Oxford Green Belt, it was necessary for us to demonstrate very special circumstances to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt.”

This includes making sure the scale (5MW) of generation of renewable energy helped to reduce carbon emissions, combating climate change and ensuring energy security.

Another very special circumstance is that the solar farm will be part of a community-led energy initiative involving the Low Carbon Hub which is based in Oxford as well as a low-carbon project called Project Local Energy Oxfordshire.

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Harm to the Green Belt was outweighed because the applicant showed there was a lack of suitable and available alternative sites in the area to provide enough grid capacity and connection for the park, with no previously developed or non-agricultural sites identified.

Green Belt action group, The Oxford Green Belt Network (OGBN), objected to the plans saying that the very special circumstances set out did not overcome the ‘barrier of inappropriateness’.

It says solar panels should only be put on roofs of buildings, not on open land.

Ian Scargill, on behalf of OGBN, said: “We understand the arguments in favour of renewable energy and are sympathetic to them in principle, but our wish has always been to see solar panels put on the roofs of buildings and, where they are available, on brownfield sites, but not in the Green Belt.”

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Cherwell Green Councillor, Ian Middleton, agrees that solar panels should only be put on roofs - particularly on big warehouses.

He said: "It would be far better for planning laws to be changed to promote and require large commercial structures with huge roof areas to be utilised for solar panels. This would make for efficient and less visually intrusive use of much more appropriate areas.

"Cherwell has also recently approved plans for yet more giant 'sheds' to be built in the district which, in terms of area probably cover as much as a solar farm would. There should be a legal obligation on developers and companies to include PV panels and associated grid infrastructures in their design."

Mr Pickford added: “Cherwell District Council declared a Climate Emergency in July this year. This project will help contribute toward the Council’s associated carbon emission targets.”