A CONTROVERSIAL solar park in Coombe Bissett will be built after developers halved the size of it and councillors gave it the green light.

The solar park at Bake Farm, which is close to Salisbury Racecourse, had been rejected by the Southern Area Planning Committee in October on the grounds of it being too large and detrimental to the nearby Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

But resubmitting the application to Wiltshire Council, the developer British Solar Renewables, reduced the size of the site from 40 hectares across four fields to 20 hectares across two fields and said only ten hectares would actually be built on.

The changes meant the National Association for AONB no longer raised any objections and paved the way for permission to be granted at Thursday’s Southern Area Planning Committee meeting.

Residents from the village attended the meeting to speak out against the 9.9MW solar project, with one saying: "Solar parks may be appropriate on the plains of Andalusia in Spain but they are inappropriate and unsustainable on the green fields of Coombe Bissett."

Chris Chelu of Coombe Bissett and Homington parish council said the council had held three public meetings on the application and that there was "overwhelming" opposition to it.

In a letter to Wiltshire Council, the parish council states: “There can be no doubt that the countryside around Coombe Bissett and the Chalke Valley is outstanding. The applicants have reduced the impact of the proposed development when viewed from vantage points around Coombe Bissett, including those from within the Cranborne Chase AONB, but there will still be significant visual intrusion into the landscape from the junction of the Rockbourne Road and the A34 and the nearby high points.”

A soil assessment showed that the land quality had a Grade 3a banding and was therefore "good quality" prompting some councillors to argue it should remain as arable farming land.

National policy guidelines state that large scale solar projects should “ideally” be sited on brownfield sites or agricultural land “preferably” classified as being grade 3b, 4 and 5, which is the lower end of the scale for land quality.

But British Solar Renewables managing director Angus Macdonald told the committee there was no suitable brownfield land or land of a lower grade and that the site was the only grid connection point for “around 30km” with its capacity. He said the solar farm would be operational for 25 years before being dismantled and the land returned to agricultural use.

Chairman of the committee Chris Devine said: "It comes down to the existing guidelines on the quality of land and because there is no other lower quality land in the immediate area that doesn't necessarily mean you go to the next level you can lay your hands on - it may be you just have to look further afield and therefore this doesn't necessarily have to happen.”

Landowner Christopher Jowett, who runs the farm with his family, said the solar park would help secure the future of the farm and that the reality was no one would know it was there. As part of the plans, hedges will be planted to mitigate the visual impact.

While some councillors raised fears that in permitting the development, it would “open the floodgates” to similar projects across the south Wiltshire countryside, others spoke out in favour of the scaled-down solar park which no longer raised any objections from the National Association for AONB.

Planning permission was granted with six councillors voting in favour and four against.

Construction of the solar park is expected to take around 14 weeks and is likely to be completed over the summer.