Stansted Solar Farm

Stansted Airport Solar Farm Public Consultation

Welcome to Stansted Airport’s solar farm consultation. We propose to install a ground mounted solar farm on land adjacent to the airport that would provide a zero-carbon energy supply to exclusively provide power to the Airport. The proposal reflects our ambition and commitment to achieving Net Zero carbon. We consulted on our proposals between Friday 26th November 2021 and Friday 24th December 2021 in advance of submitting a planning application and invited you to share your views on the plans.

We propose to install a solar farm on land to the immediate south east of Stansted Airport, east of Parsonage Road. Please click here to view a map of the proposed site.

The solar farm will have a total rated capacity up to 14.3MW – that’s enough to meet the Airport’s current and reasonably predicted future electricity demand when output from the solar farm is at its peak (on the sunniest days of the year). This would provide the equivalent energy consumed by 5,933 homes (based on the 2,900kWh/yr OFGEM 2020 Typical Domestic Consumption Value for a Class 1 ‘Medium’ property). To put that into context, there are just over 6,000 households in Saffron Walden.

The solar farm will comprise arrays of ground mounted photo-voltaic (PV) solar panels set out in rows, with approximately 4m between each row. The panels will have a maximum height of 3.2m above ground level and will be set with a fixed orientation – the majority facing south but with some facing due east to address ‘glint and glare’ impacts on the Air Traffic Control Tower at the Airport. There will also need to be some associated equipment co-located on the site, including one or more inverter substations connecting the PV panels, an electricity substation building and battery storage units. The scheme will also include an access track through the site, security fencing and security measures.

Extensive landscape planting will be provided to ensure maximum visual screening of the entire development.

To view the indicative site plan showing the proposed layout of the PV arrays and ancillary infrastructure please click here.

The solar farm will provide renewable energy solely to Stansted Airport and will not export surplus electricity for sale to the Grid. On-site battery units will instead retain surplus energy for use outside of the peak daytime production hours. 14.3MW is the peak output of the scheme and this has been specifically sized to meet what we expect the Airport’s electricity demand will be at this time.

Choosing the right site for the solar farm is fundamental to the success of the scheme.

We needed to select a site with a developable area capable of delivering a solar farm that could produce sufficient electrical output at its peak to meet the Airport’s need, where we could also minimise any potential environmental and community impact and ensure that the development won’t compromise the safe operation of the airport.

The solar farm will therefore be located to the south east of Stansted Airport, on land that is owned by the Airport. The site comprises open fields interspersed with some hedgerows, ditches and trees. It is currently in agricultural use having most recently been used for wheat production. The size of the developable area suitable for the solar installation is roughly 18 hectares, which takes account of the enhanced perimeter landscaping together with our desire to preserve and improve existing hedgerows and other habitats on site.

There are a number of reasons why this particular site was selected:

  • The solar farm can be accommodated on this site without impacting the safety of aircraft from glint and glare effects.

  • The site is not located within a conservation area, nor does it have any statutory or non-statutory ecological or archaeological designations affecting it.

  • There are no heritage assets in the immediate vicinity of the site that would be physically impacted by the proposed development.

  • The site has a low probability of flooding.

  • The site provides enough space to achieve the required capacity of solar farm to meet the Airport’s electricity demand when output from the solar farm would be at its peak.

  • The site is only partially visible from the surrounding area as existing hedgerows and mature trees around the site perimeter provide intermittent screening.

  • It is a relatively small area of typical boulder clay soil within a wider landscape of high quality agricultural land, and therefore offers minimal impact on agricultural productivity.

  • The site is wholly owned by Stansted Airport Limited (STAL).

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.

We are fully committed to operating and growing Stansted Airport in a responsible and sustainable way. Decarbonisation is one of our key priorities. We are proud to already be carbon neutral but have an even more ambitious target to remove residual emissions and reach Net Zero carbon emissions from our airport operations no later than 2038. This will see us achieve Net Zero carbon significantly ahead of the 2050 national target legislated by Government. Our plan to reach zero carbon status is one of the strategic priorities that underpin our 2020 Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy.

Stansted Airport is a large consumer of energy, the majority of which is electricity. This is therefore a priority for reduction measures. In recent years we have made considerable progress with this; we have upgraded lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation systems as well as implementing efficient controls for passenger equipment such as lifts and escalators. 100% of the electricity that we currently use to power all of our Airport infrastructure is from renewable sources. But there is still more that we can do. Whilst we will continue to drive ever greater energy efficiency, we now need to explore options for developing our own renewable energy sources both on-site and on land within our ownership. There is significant potential to achieve this utilising solar energy, which the proposed scheme seeks to realise. We already use renewable electricity to power the Airport, however having the means to self-generate this will increase our resilience and make for a more secure energy supply. This is extremely important as without energy security there lies the potential for Airport operations to be adversely affected. Generating our own renewable energy will also allow a significant amount of renewably sourced energy back onto the market.

The proposed solar farm will enable Stansted Airport to generate its own renewable electricity on-site. This has several benefits:

  • Contribution to Net Zero carbon targets – The solar farm will provide a zero carbon energy supply to the Airport that:

  1. - contributes to Stansted Airport’s target of achieving Net Zero carbon for airport operations by 2038;

  2. - contributes to Uttlesford District Council’s target of achieving Net Zero carbon status by 2030;

  3. - complies with the UK Climate Change Act and supports the UK Government national policy to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050.

  • Contribution to UK decarbonisation – The renewable energy that we currently purchase will be freed up for others to use. This will directly contribute to the decarbonisation of UK energy networks and enable the rest of the country to decarbonise faster.

  • Guarantee of supply – The Airport’s energy supply will be far more secure.

  • Sustainable development – The proposal supports the sustainable development of Stansted Airport.

  • Ecological enhancements – The proposal incorporates extensive high quality landscaping and enhancements to the biodiversity of the site. This will provide a diverse habitat for small birds, reptiles, invertebrates and other flora and fauna.

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.

End of Consultation

Thank you for taking the time to read about our proposals for a solar farm on airport land. The public consultation is now closed.

We will carefully consider all the comments that were received and, where possible, use them to help refine the proposals.

The public consultation ran until Friday 24th December. We will be submitting a planning application to Uttlesford District Council seeking full planning permission for the solar farm. There will be a further opportunity to make representations on the proposed development as part of the planning application determination process – you will be able to support, object to or make a general comment in relation to the proposals and this will be taken into account when the application is determined. We’ll share the link to the planning application on this page once it has been published on Uttlesford District Council’s website.