How will you ensure the safety of aircraft?
The configuration of the solar farm has been specifically designed to avoid impacting aircraft safety.
A technical Glint and Glare Study has been undertaken to assess the risk of solar glint and glare from the PV arrays, and the possible effects this could have on aircraft and the Air Traffic Control tower. Therefore, the panels in the northern-most part of the site are orientated to face east to prevent reflections towards the ATC tower. The site will be actively managed to ensure that it will not result in additional movements of hazardous birds close to the airport.
Have you considered the impact to the environment?
It is essential that we achieve an appropriate balance between meeting the need for the solar farm development and managing its potential impact on the environment. The environmental effects of the proposed development have therefore been carefully considered through a series of environmental assessments. This has allowed us to effectively understand, minimise and mitigate any potential adverse effects, ensure that appropriate environmental standards have been incorporated into the design of the development and take account of opportunities for environmental enhancements too. The key issues arising from this proposal are addressed in turn below:
Why are using agricultural land?
The proposed location for the solar farm is on land that is owned by Stansted Airport and until recently has been farmed for crop production. In accordance with the national Agricultural Land Classification (ALC) system, approximately 69% of the land within the proposed site is graded as 3a (good quality), 24% grade 3b (moderate quality) and 6% grade 2 (very good quality). It is a relatively modest area of typical boulder clay soils, whereas the surrounding area is dominated by high quality Grade 2 and Grade 3a land. Utilising this site for the solar farm would therefore not have a significant effect on agricultural productivity and would not lead to the permanent loss of its agricultural quality. The operational life of solar farms is generally time-limited to 25 – 30 years and upon its decommissioning the land has the ability to be restored to its former agricultural use with little or no impact on its inherent quality. We will also explore options for grazing sheep or similar activity as a dual use on the solar farm site to retain an agricultural activity on the site whilst the solar farm is operational.
How will this affect the landscape and views?
A Landscape and Visual Assessment of the proposed development has been carried out. The site lies within the Countryside Protection Zone (CPZ) that surrounds Stansted Airport. This is an area designated to protect the open characteristics of the countryside and prevent the coalescence of settlements around the Airport. However, the use of land for a solar farm will not conflict with the aim of the CPZ as it will be integrated within the landscape rather than act to urbanise it and will also be reversable. The development would therefore not lead to coalescence between the Airport and existing development or adversely affect the open characteristics of the CPZ.
To assess the visual impact of the proposed development, a Zone of Theoretical Visibility (ZTV) has been prepared from various viewpoints in the vicinity of the site. This has shown that whilst views of the development to the north and east would largely be contained, there is greater visibility to the south. We will therefore plant trees and hedgerows along the western and southern edges of the solar farm and reinstate the historic field boundary in the centre of the site with a new hedgerow. These landscape enhancements will help to screen the solar farm from view and conserve the character of the local landscape, thereby mitigating any potential visual and landscape effects.
How will you protect the biodiversity of the site?
We are designing the scheme with careful consideration to the ecology and biodiversity of the site. A range of ecological and protected species surveys are currently being undertaken to determine any potential impacts to ecological features and protected habitats and species, and to establish any necessary mitigation measures.
We are also proposing a substantial improvement in habitat value and Biodiversity Net Gain on the site, including the protection and enhancement of existing habitats and the creation of new ones such as wildflower meadows, ‘bug hotels’, bat and bird boxes. These ecological and biodiversity enhancements will be further developed as the design for the solar farm progresses.
There are two local Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) located within 2km of the site – Elsenham Wood SSSI and Hatfield Forest SSSI. However, due to the presence of intervening roads and other infrastructure including the Airport itself, the solar farm will not impact on these sites.
Will the solar farm create a flood risk?
The solar farm is not expected to affect flood risk or drainage. The site is located within Flood Zone 1, as shown on the Environment Agency’s flood mapping. This means that it has a low probability of fluvial or tidal flooding. The area is also not at any significant risk from surface water flooding, with an annual chance of flooding of less than 0.1%.
We do not anticipate a requirement for the provision of additional drainage because the proposed development only has limited areas of hardstanding and the rain falling on to the panels will naturally run off and percolate into the underlying ground. As such, Greenfield surface water run off rates can be maintained without the need to incorporate specific drainage attenuation features or active drainage systems.
What about local heritage buildings?
The solar farm is not likely to impact upon any nearby built heritage.
The closest heritage assets to the site are two Grade II listed buildings – Le Knells Cottage located to the west on Parsonage Road and Old House Farmhouse located approximately 220m to the south – however it is unlikely that there will be any impact on their physical integrity or setting. Le Knells Cottage is already largely screened from the site by trees, and it is therefore not expected that this property would have a clear line of sight of the solar farm. The enhanced planting that will take place around the perimeter of the site will help to screen direct views to the proposed development from all directions including from Old House Farmhouse.
There are no scheduled monuments in the immediate vicinity of the site.
Will there be disturbance during and after the installation of the solar farm?
In the short term during the construction phase, it will be necessary to transport the manufactured PV panels and other associated equipment to the site using construction vehicles. Although construction traffic movements will be relatively infrequent, deliveries to the site will be managed by a Construction Logistics Plan (CLP). The aim will be to keep construction vehicle and workforce movements outside of peak travel times to minimise the potential impact that could be experienced on the local road network.
We are developing a Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) to inform and manage the potential construction impacts of the proposed development. This will set out details on how we will manage matters such as construction vehicles, the requirement for a temporary construction compound, minimisation of soil excavation, installation procedures, dust, noise and the protection of existing trees and hedges. We will also implement a Site Waste Management Plan (SWMP) to manage any waste that is generated during construction
Once complete, there will be virtually no traffic associated with the operation and maintenance of the solar farm as it would only require minimal access for occasional maintenance or security purposes.
Will it be noisy?
The solar farm will be an inherently passive facility with no moving plant and will therefore have no significant noise or vibration related emissions associated with its operation. The on-site inverters may emit a minor noise, but this is not expected to be discernible due to being positioned centrally within the site, the extensive landscape screening and the considerable distance to the nearest residential property.
Any potential noise and vibration impact from the construction works would be managed through a Construction Environmental Management Plan.
Stansted Airport has objected to other applications for solar farms why is it installing this one?
All development in the vicinity of an officially safeguarded aerodrome is assessed on a case-by-case basis. There are no two sites the same and what we can tolerate in one location may be an intolerable risk to flight safety in another. For solar projects, we have adopted a position where we routinely request aviation perspective Glint & Glare assessments so that we have a robust evidence base upon which to make decisions. Proximity to the runway, the orientation of different facilities and their relationship to flightpaths will all have different effects that need to be individually assessed.
Can you put the solar panels somewhere else e.g., on top of existing building or over a car park?
Sites across the airport estate have been examined for suitability but most have been ruled out because they have an effect on the safe operation of the airport or are uneconomic because of the amount of supporting infrastructure that would be required to support them, such as: car port solutions over surface car parks; requirement to retrofit buildings to cope with the additional wind and weight loadings that would be exerted on roof structures; the need to provide additional sub-stations and providing ducting infrastructure in a busy airport environment.