Councillors have refused an application for a 20,000 panel solar farm on greenbelt land in Hapsford.

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s strategic planning committee decided on Thursday that applicant Peel Energy had failed to prove the ‘very special’ circumstances required for development of the greenbelt – in spite of the planning officer’s recommendation for approval.

Cllr Jill Houlbrook said giving the green light to the renewable energy scheme – which received objections from Dunham Hill and Hapsford, and Elton Parish Councils – would put the planning authority ‘in danger of setting a precedent which will give people the idea that they can quite easily sway this council that they have produced the special circumstances for turning greenbelt into something else’.

Peel Energy had proposed to build the 5MW solar farm, capable of generating enough electricity to supply the equivalent of nearly 1,400 homes, on land south of junction 14 of the M56.

Alternative site suggestions

But speaking at the meeting, Dunham Hill and Hapsford parish councillor Andy Jones put forward a raft of alternative sites which he believed would be more suitable than the greenbelt land.

As well as suggesting using the roofs of schools, factories and hospitals, he cited the example of Bentley Motors in Crewe which boasts 20,000 solar panels on its roof space.

Gowy ward councillor Eleanor Johnson also relayed her concerns, arguing that development of the site would have ‘great impact’ on the area.

She said: “To take approximately 20 acres of land out of possible food production to fuel only 1,390 homes would have little impact on the national grid.

“If greenbelt has to be used well why not use the land around the wind turbines being built on the Frodsham and Helsby marshes.

“Greenbelt is not made any more but brownfield is. We need to preserve what greenbelt land we have.”

Peel Energy development manager James Hadfield, however, said that the low level of objection the application had received was ‘rare for a renewable energy project’.

He said that the necessary special circumstances have been demonstrated and urged the committee to grant permission so they would all ‘in some way be responsible for saving 600,000 tonnes of damaging carbon emissions over the next 30 years’.

Cllr Houlbrook’s moved for refusal was seconded by Cllr Norman Wright, who said: “It seems that England’s green and pleasant land is being eroded slowly but surely.

“I think this is an unnecessary development in this place.”

The proposal for refusal was carried by eight to one.

Do you live in the area? What do you think about the decision? Let us know in the comments below