Former colliery returns as site for green energy

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In a ‘rather fine and acceptable irony’, a major green-energy scheme has been given the go-ahead on the site of the former Ashington Colliery.

On Tuesday afternoon, the green light was given to proposals for a solar farm consisting of almost 14,000 PV panels, 2.4 metres high and laid out in 77 rows, in a north-west section of the Ashington Community Woodland.

The development, which will provide enough electricity to power up to 1,300 homes, went before Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee as the applicant is the local authority itself.

There were only six objections and the main concerns related to the loss of the woodland.

Around 10 per cent (13.2hectares) will be lost, however, the meeting heard that the semi-mature woodland is of relatively low ecological value.

The proposals include the replacement of the trees – which will be clearfelled with the root balls left intact – with grassland which has ecological benefits for the wider area.

The applicant has proposed supplementary tree planting around the site, which will increase the variety of tree species and has been welcomed by the county ecologist.

Committee members raised a number of questions about the ecological impacts and also the possibility of glint and glare affecting homes, nearby roads (access to the site is from the A1068) or aircraft, but fears were assuaged by council officers.

Moving approval, Coun Trevor Thorne said: “Ideally, I would have seen a solar farm in a an area where you didn’t have to cut down trees, but we are only losing 10 per cent and I’m reassured by [the planning officer’s] comments regarding the management of the site.”

When the scheme was announced in June, the first stage of ‘a bold ten-year energy-investment strategy’, it was revealed that the council currently consumes in excess of 36,000 MWh of electricity each year, aside from school buildings, at a cost of £3.2million.

The annual cost for utilities, including gas and water, is approaching £10million, and the authority currently has to allow £1million each year to cover the impact of utilities inflation.

The solar farm could generate around £400,000 of gross income annually to the council

Council leader Grant Davey said: “Through this programme, Northumberland will become one of a growing group of progressive authorities which are looking to reduce their energy costs while also addressing environmental and social objectives and delivering community benefits.”