A SOLAR farm spanning around 100 acres which could power around 12,850 homes in Colchester has been given the green light – despite fears it could pose a “major health risk”.

Colchester Council’s planning committee waved through the panels at a meeting on Thursday, which are set to generate 40mw of electricity from farmland between Hardy’s Green, Easthorpe and Copford.

The proposals promise the land will be “restored” to its current quality and the equipment safely removed after a 40-year lifespan.

Parish councils strongly objected to the scheme, citing the loss of “productive farmland”.

Birch Parish Council said a proposed lithium-ion battery poses a “major health, safety and environmental risk”.

The plans state batteries would be contained within shipping containers or a “similar cabin-type structure”, with nearby heating, ventilation and cooling units.

The parish council said: “There have been many reported battery fires and explosions related to lithium-ion batteries which are uncontrollable except by extravagant water cooling.

The parish council said it is “not against green energy”, but said the site is “surrounded by housing, including listed properties, ancient woodland, bridleways and wildlife”.

Gazette: The site at Hardy's Green where the panels are set to be builtThe site at Hardy's Green where the panels are set to be built (Image: Google Maps)

It added: “The proposed site is high grade agricultural land that is best used for growing food, covering the land with solar panels will cause long term damage to the soil and biodiversity.”

Around 175 letters of objection were submitted, with 58 in support and 31 “general” comments.

But Colchester Council raised concerns about the potential of “significant environmental effects” arising as a result of the proposal.

In May last year, The Campaign Against Rural Exploitation (CARE) launched when 15 of its members also took part in the 10k Colchester Zoo Stampede.

READ MORE: Solar plans for Colchester green fields opposed by group

Group spokesman Christopher Wilkinson said: “CARE is a fan of renewable energy and solar plants – in the right place.

“CARE also believes food security is every bit as important as energy security. Aren’t the Ukraine and climate crises demonstrating we need both?"

Speaking for the applicant, Low Carbon, at the committee meeting, Ed Perrin, head of project development, said the solar farm would make a “sizable and positive” contribution towards the council’s climate change emergency pledges.

He said while “no site is perfect”, the farm would only contain 0.11 per cent of Colchester’s best and most versatile land.

“It will provide sufficient electricity for 16 per cent of the district’s homes,” he added.

“The land can continue to be used for agriculture in the form of grazing.

“This temporary absence of arable farming will allow the soil to rest and recover, improving its quality, following which the equipment will be fully removed at the end of its operational life and the land returned to its original use.”

Committee members voted by seven to three to approve the plans, following officers’ recommendations, with lengthy conditions attached including over safety and environmental protection.

'Farmland is not necessarily beautiful'

Committee member Sam McLean, ward councillor for New Town and Christ Church, said the plans would not decrease the beauty of the countryside around Birch.

Gazette: Sam McLean, a Labour Colchester councillor for the New Town and Christ Church ward, supported the plansSam McLean, a Labour Colchester councillor for the New Town and Christ Church ward, supported the plans (Image: Newsquest)

Supporting the scheme, he said the project wouldn’t result in a loss of agricultural land as the area would be restored for its former use at the end of the solar farm’s lifespan.

“I went on a site visit today and didn’t really see any outstanding vistas, I didn’t see mountains I didn’t see medieval castles, it was just farmland,” he said.

“Primarily farmland has always been an industry, it has always served a functional purpose for growing food and making money for the farmer.

“We’re not all romantics, not everyone thinks farms are beautiful. Some people think solar farms are beautiful.”

He said farmers have to make money in the “post-Brexit economy”.

“Who are they going to sell to when they’ve lost free trade to the largest single market,” he said.

Committee member Lyn Barton (Shrub End), supporting the scheme, said a “delicate balance” had to be struck between protecting rural communities and recognising the climate emergency.

Opposing the plans, Robert Davidson (Mersea and Pyefleet) said: “There are so many more thousands of acres in the Colchester district that would be more suitable and lower quality land.”

Jackie Maclean (Marks Tey and Layer) was also against the project, adding: “I think the road network in Birch and Copford is never going to be satisfactory for articulated lorries going over those lanes, you’re going to have to be very careful which route is taken.”