Green Belt solar farm scheme overwhelmingly rejected

The proposed site of the Aldenham solar farm.

A site layout for the potential 130 hectare development (with 85 hectares of solar panels). - Credit: Elstree Green Limited

Plans to place thousands of solar panels between Radlett and Elstree in what was branded the “biggest destruction of the Green Belt” ever proposed for the area have been thrown out by councillors.

The controversial plans are thought to be the most objected to application in Hertsmere’s history, and would have seen solar panels built on 85 hectares of land.

Officers had recommended that councillors back the proposals on the benefits of producing renewable energy, but were roundly rejected by members of the Hertsmere Borough Council’s planning committee.

Planning permission would have allowed Enzo Solar to produce energy on the land for 35 years.

The “dumbell” layout of the Aldenham site would have seen the solar panels stretch across land north of Butterfly Lane, surrounding Hilfield Farm, and west of Hilfield Lane, with a corridor between the two parcels. The rest of the 130 hectare site would be earmarked for nature areas.

However, the proposals provoked outrage from resident’s, who feared the impact of losing the green space for decades.

Ward councillor, Cllr Caroline Clapper warned that there would be a “devastating” impact on the local area, and it would lead to a “whole generation’s loss” of open space.

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The councillor added: “Having examined this proposal, it does not stand up to scrutiny from a planning or environmental point of view.

“The residents, statutory consultees, and even our MP agrees. I do not believe this is green, nor does it serve our green agenda, and all it would actually do is cause us great harm.

She added that the solar panels chosen would not be as efficient as tracking solar panels, and the creation of carbon in the process should also be noted.

Cllr Clapper said residents would see no benefit of the scheme, with the farm not expected to bring any new employment and the power would be fed into the National Grid, rather than benefiting local residents specifically.

Local resident Michael Jefferis, speaking against the scheme, described it as “the biggest destruction of the Green Belt ever proposed in Hertsmere”.

Council officers had recommended members back the plans, and delegate the authority to the head of planning and economic development to grant permission once an agreement on Section 106 funding has been agreed.

A report for councillors adds the benefits of the development, including the 49.9MW of renewable energy and the agreed net gain in biodiversity would outweigh the “limited harm” to the openness of the Green Belt.

Simon Wheeler, head of development at Enzo Energy, added the plans had been scrutinised by council officers and outside parties, and had received support.

Mr Wheeler focused on the environmental benefits of the scheme, and said as the borough council have declared a climate emergency this would prove they were taking action, rather than just making pledges.

Council officers also confirmed that the site would revert back to the Green Belt after 35 years.

However, councillors were not persuaded by the arguments and despite acknowledging the need to produce greener energy, were firm on refusing the plans.

Even Cllr Glenn Briski, who proposed the motion for the council to declare a climate emergency in 2019, voted against the plans and said the council should “defend every square centimetre of Green Belt that we have”.

Councillors raised further concerns about the huge scale of the site and the lack of benefit for local people, and found it hard to justify.

Cllr Brett Rosehill added: “For me, it’s such a shame that this sort of application – because the benefits we could see from solar energy – can’t be put on a site next to the motorway, next to somewhere people are just driving past.

“The area [of the proposal] is so scenic and beautiful (…) it’s just such a shame that this sort of application can’t be put on the many areas of derelict land that are next to the motorways.”

Councillors roundly voted to refuse the application, with no votes in favour and one abstention.

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