With the support of the local parish meeting, town council, and ward members, officers at both Warwick and Stratford on Avon District Councils approved plans for the 230-acre 49.9MW Ashorne Solar Farm, located to the north the M40, just south of Leamington Spa.
The scheme was met with widespread support from the community, encountering no objections from any direct neighbour, with the leader of Warwick District Council and the local ward member Cllr Andrew Day noting that the scheme was ‘innovative and carefully considered’ and ‘offers significant environmental and community benefits.’
With high electricity and gas prices sparking a cost-of-living emergency, and solar power representing one of the cheapest forms of energy generation (being 9x cheaper than gas and 2.5x cheaper than nuclear), the application, when constructed, will play a part in bringing down spiralling energy costs.
The plans, developed by UK-based JBM Solar, are for a solar and battery storage farm and would generate enough renewable energy for over 15,000 homes, saving more than 1,500,000 tonnes of carbon compared to fossil fuel generation.
The site would be ‘a haven’ for local wildlife, according to the project manager for the scheme Robin Johnson, a trained ecologist and member of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management.
The creation and maintenance of improved grassland under and around the panelled area, in addition to the planting of over 24.5 acres of new dedicated wildflower meadows with butterfly/bee habitats, and the planting of over 3.5km of new native hedgerows and trees, will result in considerable benefits for local biodiversity.
Overall, the improvements will result in a 150% gain to local biodiversity (15x above the 10% proposed by the government in the Environment Act 2021). In addition to this, the site would be equipped with bird boxes, beehives, insect hotels, reptile hibernacula and log piles, further improving opportunities for local wildlife around the site.
In addition to this, the designs include 5.6km of new walking trails, linking the footpath networks on either side of the site in the parishes of Bishop’s Tachbrook, and Chesterton and Kingston, previously un-connected and on otherwise private land. The route was created following extensive input and discussions with the local community and the Bishop’s Tachbrook Parish Council.
Continued sheep grazing in/around the panels on the already part-pastoral farm means food will continue to be produced for the UK market, with no Best and Most Versatile Land used. The site will also retain its greenfield status before, during and after development, and is set to contribute around £7m in local business rates; providing funding to council services.
The project will also provide funding for local projects in the area, including a rooftop solar installation on the new Whitnash leisure centre.
The site is expected to commence construction in 2024.