More than 70 responses over £600m solar farm

Solar panels
The solar farm would be spread across three sites in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire

Some 72 individuals, businesses and councils have responded to plans for what would be one of Europe's biggest solar farms.

The £600m project from energy company Sunnica would be located across three sites totalling about 2,500 acres in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

The responses included concerns over the impact on stone curlew birds.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has given itself a deadline of 7 March in which to make a decision on whether the scheme goes ahead.

The 72 online comments - most of them objecting to the project - followed official responses from Natural England and Sunnica to the government about the effects on the landscape and the Breckland Special Protection Area.

The clerk at Chippenham Parish Council in Cambridgeshire, Sally Hughes, wrote "this scheme is too big and in the wrong location".

West Suffolk's independent MP, former Conservative minister Matt Hancock, and the Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire, Lucy Frazer, also wrote a joint letter to Secretary of State Claire Coutinho, objecting to the project.

The pair criticised "inconsistencies" in Sunnica's soil assessment which they believed raised "significant questions about the accuracy of the information presented" and the potential harm on the horseracing industry at nearby Newmarket.

A joint letter from Cambridgeshire County Council, East Cambridgeshire District Council, Suffolk County Council and West Suffolk Council welcomed some of the recent mitigation from Sunnica, but the local authorities believed there was much more work for the applicant to do.

It said the councils said the proposals for the project as a whole remained unacceptable.

The company said the farm had the potential to power 172,000 homes and create 1,500 jobs during the construction process, and another 27 full-time jobs to run it.

The three sites proposed are:

  • Sunnica East site A, near West Row and Mildenhall

  • Sunnica East site B, south of the village of Worlington

  • Sunnica West site A, near Newmarket north of the A14

Sunnica claimed the project would have a lifespan of 40 years and then the land would be decontaminated and returned to its original, mainly agricultural use.

Dr Jethro Gauld, chairman of the East Cambridgeshire Climate Action Network group, hoped the energy farm would "be allowed to proceed".

"While we feel this application would have been greeted more warmly by local people in East Cambridgeshire if Sunnica had involved the community at an earlier stage of planning, we have to weigh that against the urgent need for energy security, the scale of decarbonising our economy and the potential for more solar energy to help reduce people's energy bills in the midst of a cost of living crisis," he said.

The BBC contacted Sunnica for comment.

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