East Cambridgeshire Council release timetable for discussing Sennica Energy Farm - but ultimately the decision rests with the Government

A map of the proposed solar farm that sprawls two counties.

A map of the proposed solar farm that sprawls two counties. - Credit: Archant

The timetable for deciding on a massive solar energy plant sprawling two counties is being discussed by the planning committee of East Cambridgeshire District Council.

Although the council will not have the powers to veto or approve the Sunnica Energy Farm, it will be asked to come to a view on it in 2021.

The council’s response, together with those of other councils in both Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, will be considered by the Government.

Sunnica Energy Farm is a National Strategic Infrastructure Project (NSIP) which means decision making has been taken out of the hands of local councils.

Spread across three sites, construction – if approved – could begin in 2022 and take up to three years to complete.

Villagers such as Isleham, Chippenham and Kennett are mainly affected with a cable route connecting to Burwell Electrical Sub Station.

The company expects to provide 500MW through solar panels and batteries, which100,000 homes.

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“The council has been actively involved in pre-application meetings relating to this proposal,” says a report to East Cambs planning committee. “This was encouraged by Government advice.”

The first stages of consultation conclude on September 1- ahead of the planning committee meeting – and a response has been sent to the Secretary of State.

“There is no requirement for consultation responses to be submitted via the planning committee and further it is not possible for the committee to endorse the officer comment due to the consultation period expiring prior to a committee being held,” says the report.

“Nonetheless, as this is a large-scale development, it is important to bring this matter to members attention.

“At the time of writing this report the comments are still being written and a copy of the response to the consultation will be provided to members.”

Councillors were advised of the next stages:

Stage 1 – Draft Statement of Community Consultation (SoCC). A summary has been produced, and officers have responded to this.

Stage 2 - Pre-submission work (November 2020 – February 2021). This is akin to the council’s pre-application advice process. This is where officers will make representation on technical issues.

Stage 3 - Draft Statement of Common Ground (SoCG) (Current period proposed: 23 February – 23 March 2021).

This is where officers make representations on part of the proposals that are agreed or challenged respectively. There will be an opportunity for councillors to provided their thoughts to officers in making these representations. Stage 4 - Adequacy of Consultation Representation (AoC) (approx. April – May 2021).

The council will have 14 days to respond to this part of the process. The council will need to agree or disagree that the developer has undertaken their consultation in accordance with their statement of community consultation. The planning manager will provide this response and will ensure that councillors are updated.

Stage 5 - Local Impact Reports (LIR)/ Statements of Common Ground (SoCG) (May – June 2021).

The LIR is a technical document and the affected authorities can author a joint report addressing the technical elements of the proposal.

Stage 6- Written representation (approx. June 2021); this is when to support or oppose the proposed development. This will be a matter for councillors and will be a decision of the planning committee.

Last October it was confirmed that Smith Brothers Contracting has been confirmed as the Independent Connection Provider (ICP) for Sunnica Energy Farm.

The company will supply turnkey electrical engineering services from first design through to construction, commissioning, and electrical balance of plant.

Dave Ogden, a director at Smith Brothers called the farm “momentous,” saying that “everyone at Smith Brothers is delighted to be working on such a prestigious scheme.”

“Planning works are already well underway, with a 30-strong team from across the business set to collaborate on the turnkey delivery.”

There will be three 132kV private substations as part of the project, and 132kV of cable route will need to be laid to connect the site to the Burwell National Grid Substation.

Luke Murray from Sunnica said: “Solar energy generation and battery storage are a sustainable and clean means of meeting our changing energy needs – particularly the government’s target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.