Solar farm approval was unlawful, judge says – Yahoo News Australia

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Campaigners held a toast to celebrate the news

Campaigners are celebrating after a High Court judge said a council’s approval of plans for a solar farm was unlawful.

Approved by Durham County Council, Lightsource bp’s contentious plans to transform a 92-hectare site near Burnhope into a huge solar farm are fiercely opposed by residents.

Villagers challenged the proposals with a judicial review, which has now concluded with a judge’s order to quash planning permission.

The council said it was “disappointed” but accepted the High Court’s decision.

Plans showing the area earmarked for developmentPlans showing the area earmarked for development

The proposals would have drastically altered the landscape around Burnhope

Despite hundreds of objections, the council approved the proposals in March 2023.

They would have seen up to 14 fields overlaid with panels, including areas around a popular nature reserve.

Developers Lighthouse bp says the site is well-suited for solar, because it is a former coal mine and “dominated by low-quality agricultural land”.

However, residents believe a solar farm would “industrialise” the environment and took their battle to preserve the landscape to the High Court.

Attempting to persuade the judge to stop the proposals progressing, the group argued that the development was too big – they said its size meant it had not been within the council’s powers to agree planning permission.

Local authorities are only permitted to give permission to solar power stations up to a certain size (50MW) – and the judge agreed that the Burnhope plans exceeded that size.

In a written decision, Mr Justice Fordham ordered the quashing of the planning permission.

He said: “The planning permission is unlawful because the council failed to take into account an obviously material consideration, namely addressing whether it was approving more panels over a larger area than were required to produce the stated (and a lawful) electricity-generating capacity.”

‘Amazing’

A spokesman for the residents’ group said: “We know we have done something amazing together.

“We’ve stood up to people who aren’t interested in our health and well-being, who aren’t interested in local jobs for local people, who aren’t interested in the landscape, and the walks and the wildlife.”

Michael Kelleher, Durham County Council’s head of planning and housing, said the council would now redetermine the planning application.

He added: “We are aware of the outcome of the judicial review and, whilst we are disappointed at the outcome, accept the High Court’s decision.”

A spokesman for Lightsource bp said the company had listened to the community and concerns raised by other parties, including the RSPB.

As a result, he said, acreage would have been reduced, footpaths retained and new wildlife habitats incorporated into the plans.

Describing the company as “very disappointed”, he said the project would deliver about £500,000 in community benefits and millions in business rates, while “driving down electricity bills and addressing climate change”.

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