Plans for a solar farm which would have covered an area of farmland roughly the size of 52 football pitches have been refused by Uttlesford District Council.

Low Carbon Ltd’s proposal for the Cutlers Green solar farm near Thaxted was first considered by the planning committee in January, and was deferred again in June, after it decided more detail was needed to make a decision.

At a meeting yesterday (September 28) the committee voted unanimously to refuse the proposal, which has been criticised for its potential harm to the countryside and its resultant loss of productive farmland.

The plans would have provided enough energy to power over 13,291 homes, and would have been decommissioned after 40 years, according to a council report.

Beverley Rodbard-Hedderwick, stakeholder manager at Low Carbon, told the committee the UK’s energy security strategy is targeting a five-fold increase in solar deployment, and that the scheme had been amended multiple times following consultations.

She said: “We believe the project being presented to you today is a great project. Not only does it provide a 165 per cent increase in biodiversity, such as new hedgerows and wildflower meadows, but we’ve also committed to planting five acres of new woodland, which equates to approximately 8,000 new trees.”

Low Carbon was criticised by committee chair Sandi Merifield (Residents for Uttlesford, Felsted and Stebbing) ahead of the main debate for reportedly attempting to contact members the previous night, which she described as “lobbying”. She said she had considered pulling the item from the meeting as a result.

Scores of residents turned up to the meeting to speak against the proposal. One of them, Adrian Temple, warned of creeping industrialisation in the district’s medieval villages.

He said: “I personally have no objection to solar in the right place, but when you’ve got grade two arable land that produces a wide range of crops and is very important to our food supply, it seems the wrong way to go.”

Residents also raised concerns over the potential loss of biodiversity as a result of the proposals, as well as noise, how safely batteries will be stored at the site, and how the farm will be decommissioned.

The district has received several applications for solar farms over the last year, including one for over 114 Hectares of land near Felsted, which was approved by the committee in August.

Proposing to refuse, Councillor Richard Pavitt (Uttlesford Independents, Littlebury, Chesterford & Wenden Lofts) said Uttlesford was providing more solar energy than it needed.

He said: “I believe the point made by the representatives of CPRE [the countryside charity] is a valid one, and that is we need to start achieving some consistency in the way we respond to these applications for solar farms.“

The applicant was arguing uncertainties in the energy industry mean it needs flexibility in terms of the permission it receives, under a planning principle called the Rochdale Envelope.

Its application was for the maximum extent of the development, heights and number of buildings, which are likely to be less than what is being formally proposed.