Shropshire Star

Talking Telford: A solar farm saga and grim reading for the borough council

A bitter row over plans for a huge solar farm on swathes of green space in Telford reached an unedifying new stage this week when it emerged the borough council’s opposition to the plans failed because it missed a deadline by a few days.

Land at New Works is marked for a 99-acre solar farm

The saga of the New Works solar farm proposals (I think any development as long-running as this one is legally required to be described as a “saga”) took a new twist earlier this week, as per the reporting of my colleague Dominic Robertson.

To recap: developers Greentech Invest UK have their eyes set on a quiet patch of land at New Works, former mining land near Lawley, where they want to build a 99-acre solar farm. They had put in a planning application to this end, accompanied by glossy documents setting out their proposals to produce clean energy for thousands of homes, all while retaining the public’s access to the popular walking and horse riding area. Greentech promised its solar panels will “successfully co-exist alongside public footpath and bridleway routes, and increase interest in the countryside experience”.

Telford & Wrekin Council disagreed, and rejected the planning application - councillors said they supported green energy principles, but not at the expense of the borough’s premium green spaces. The developers appealed and an inquiry followed but the Government’s own local planning inspector agreed with the council’s position - then the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities got involved and in March this year a Government minister overruled the council’s decision, so the solar farm can go ahead after all.

Cue much outrage and the council announcing it would pursue a “legal challenge” to the controversial decision. That brings us up to the beginning of this month, when the council announced its application for said legal challenge had failed on what it called a “technicality”.

But now the judge’s remarks about that “technicality” have been reported by my colleague, and they don’t make pretty reading for the council. It turns out the application was served late - partly because it was filed on the second-last working day before the deadline (around the May Day bank holiday) and partly because the council waited until July to apply for a time extension. Oh dear.

It is possible to feel no small amount of sympathy for the council, given it has already spent significant resource opposing this application only for it to be appealed and re-applied and taken over their heads - but leaving an application so close to a deadline when the stakes are so high isn’t a good look. School homework or maybe even a job application if you’re daring, but when you’re relying on the mechanisms of the England and Welsh court systems, the earlier the better. I look forward to hearing what the developers have to say next, and whether they can say it with a straight face.