Permission granted for one of largest solar panel farms in Scotland

The development will consist of 82,500 panels, being able to supply the electricity needs of 9,300 homes per year.

Permission granted for one of largest solar panel farms in Scotland in West Lothian LDRS

Plans for a 100 acre solar panel farm – one of the largest in Scotland- have been granted for open fields south of the village of Newton following the promise of greater consultation with the surrounding residents.

The community has won promises that the energy project will protect the architectural remnants of one of the country’s first energy projects –  a shale mine railway and a part of the council’s Shale trail historic pathway.

And councillors on West Lothian’s Development Management Committee also recommended that conditions should be added to protect wildlife and ecology of the site.

It will be 12 to 18 months before construction begins in the area. 

There were 17 objections to the plans put forward by Aithrie Net Zero Limited on behalf of Hopetoun Estates.

The proposed development will comprise of solar PV modules covering an area of 112 acres, each with a height of up to 10ft. 

The development will consist of 82,500 panels, being able to supply the electricity needs of 9,300 homes per year and save on average 15,100 tonnes of carbon per year.

A report to the DMC said: “The site is situated within the Winchburgh/Broxburn countryside belt. The site is made up of a number of fields separated by woodland, access tracks and field boundary walls. The topography of the site is typically undulating with the general slope downwards to the south.”

Written objections had focused on the loss of open countryside and rural land. One pointed out that Scotland was already a significant provider of clean energy through the proliferation of wind turbines.

Morgan Merritt, representing Newton Community Council spoke to the meeting  to stress concerns about  the loss of countryside and heritage. 

In her presentation  to the committee Ms Merritt said: “The proposed development site lies between Newton, Woodend and Totleywells. The agricultural land  holds a number of cultural assets and the ancient woodland area is a key foraging ground for geese and other birds. 

“The land is used by our community for recreational walking  groups and provides much needed pedestrian connection between the settlements.

“The photo montage images do not fully represent the industrial scale of this development.”  

She added that even once it was removed the solar panel farm would leave a “lasting scar.”

The existing proposals would cover the remnants of the shale mine tramway which would be lost in construction and  later decommissioning of the site

In its representation the community council added: “We are concerned with the proposed layout and the resulting loss of heritage of this important site with this development. [The] appendix highlights the remains of the tramways and quarries on the site and as the applicant has referenced, Duddingston Shale Mine was the first completely electrified mine in the Scottish Shale industry. 

“To state that the heritage sensitivity of this is negligible, presents the wrong conclusion.

“This Shale trail is a popular route for recreation and as such, the community council have been working with Paths For All to secure funding for upgrading this route to provide an essential connection and safe cycle path to schools in Winchburgh. This was discussed with the applicant and it is essential that no part of the proposal should be allowed to be constructed over the heritage assets.

“Any development or exploration of this site should be carried out in a way not Right of way ‘Shale trail’ route Duddingston Shale mine remains to destruct any last remaining parts of the West Lothian Shale mining heritage and can this be conditioned?” 

Ms Merritt said that screening planting should take place before any  installation work begins, adding  the site has only a planned 35 year life span and it was unreasonable  to expect communities to wait 15 years before screening planting  reached maturity.

Planning officer Wendy McCorriston  said that in terms of landscaping  the council was satisfied with the native hedging and planting   will augment existing planting on the site.  

She added that she could understand the Community council’s plea to have planting up front and was prepared to see if planting could be  in place before construction begins.

It was agreed that could be conditioned, and agreed pathways could be conditioned to protect the Shale trail following further discussions  with the community. 

Councillors Pauline Clark and Tom Conn  supported the proposals  given the assurance of further discussions between the community and applicants to protect the site’s historic features.

Councillor Lawrence Fitzpatrick asked several detailed questions about the potential effects on wildlife and bio diversity. He  told the meeting: “I have looked at all the ecology reports and considered amenity of the resident and listened to the voice of lady who represented the community council.  I’m minded to support  the recommendation with the the added conditions that a thorough and current ecology report is brought forward to ensure fullest protection of European protected species. ”

Councillor Stuart Borrowman chairing the committee said:” I think we all know where we want to get to.  What would be the simplest way ahead?

Mrs McCorriston replied that conditions could be  applied   covering ecology  the preservation of pathways and historic features to grant consent. The committee accepted  and agreed.

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