Smallford Pit solar farm scheme delayed

Smallford Pit at Colney Heath, where the solar farm is due to be located.

Smallford Pit at Colney Heath, where the solar farm is due to be located. - Credit: Debbie White/Archant

Plans to develop a 124-acre solar farm on the edge of St Albans have been delayed.

Estimates suggest that energy generated from the planned solar farm – on the site of Smallford Pit – could bring in £2m a year for Herts county council (HCC), either through sales or savings.

It was hoped construction on the site – a former landfill site – could begin this financial year (2021/22), but it has emerged that the work is not expected to start until next year, after environmental surveys were delayed.

Council officials say weather conditions and the impact of the pandemic meant planned surveys could not go ahead last summer.

As a result, the £15m that had been set aside for the project this year 2020/21 is set to be ‘reprogrammed’.

Nevertheless the council hopes to submit an application for planning permission next month and, subject to planning permission, there are hopes work on the site will begin next year – and the solar farm will be up and running in spring 2023.

HCCassistant director for property Sass Pledger says the delay is “disappointing” – but it reflects factors were beyond the council’s control.

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She stresses that the environmental surveys – including details such as animal species and habitats – are important to ensure the solar farm continues to provide a habitat for wildlife and plants and it's been important for HCC to ‘get it right’.

“I think the delay has been unfortunate. But clearly there were reasons around that; one around Covid, which was something nobody had planned for; and the other around the environment, which is something you can’t control.

“It’s fairly frustrating in terms of progressing as quickly as you want it to, but this is a big scheme for us and we want to be able to get it right.”

Smallford Pit – a former landfill site owned by the county council –  is in the Green Belt and is currently used to graze horses.

Deemed to be unsuitable for housing development or farming, HCC identified it as a suitable site for the development of a 22 megawatt solar photovoltaic energy and battery storage facility.

Once developed, the site – the council’s first ‘solar park’ – will contribute to its carbon neutral ambitions.

It could become a blueprint for future solar developments within the county on land unsuitable for other purposes.