Work is expected to begin this year on construction of a Solar Electric Forecourt and solar farm on the outskirts of Uckfield.
Planning permission was given yesterday for the development to go ahead, with access off the Copwood Roundabout, on the A22 Uckfield by-pass.
The plans include WCs, coffee shop, retail, seating area, meeting rooms/workspace and a display area.
Members of Wealden Council’s planning committee, north, voted seven in favour and five against, of approving the proposal.
Earlier in the meeting a representative of GRIDSERVE Sustainable Energy confirmed the aim of beginning construction this year.
He said a comprehensive site selection process had been followed and this was the only feasible site with a viable grid connection, in conjunction with the adjacent trunk road, and sufficient land for on-site electricity generation.
Arguments against the proposal were similar to those advanced before the meeting by Uckfield Town Council who said this was the wrong location. Town councillors feared it would set a precedent for the future outward creep of development. See here.
There was also concern that Uckfield businesses would lose customers if they used the retail provision at the service station.
Speakers from Little Horsted Parish Meeting, and Isfield and Fletching Parish Councils at yesterday’s meeting, said they had previously been given assurances there wouldn’t be additional building to the west of the A22 by-pass.
A statement was read from Simon Autie, of Little Horsted Parish Meeting who said that, at the time Horsted Park was proposed, a previous head of planning at Wealden Council was recorded saying the A22 was a natural barrier to future development on that side of the road.
Mr Autie said in his statement: “I can only entreat you to stop this now. Your new ‘district plan’ has only just been replied to by the parishes.
“Surely charging points need a coordinated approach and should be part of this and not pushed forward on an ad hoc basis.
“Preempting this debate by going ahead with this proposal now would demonstrate such consultations to be a meaningless box ticking formality.
“If you allow this you will certainly be seen to have, at best, misled the parishes as well as treating them with total contempt.”
Wealden development manager Stacey Robins responded to claims about assurances being given there would be no development to the west of the A22 saying no officer could give that type of assurance.
“Ultimately members of the committee take decisions on this type of application. They are not bound by advice given by officers.”
Cllr Neil Waller who proposed approval of the planning application, with conditions, said there were a lot of comments about the development being in the wrong place and from parishes which believed it was in the wrong place because they were assured nothing could go this side of the road, but Mr Robins had adequately explained “why that belief can’t be true”.
Cllr Waller said he used to work in the solar industry and a solar farm of this size needed a good grid connection and that was on this side of the by-pass.
He said there had been comments about this being a motorway-size service station but it was 160 square metres in size compared with thousands of square metres for a motorway service station.
He didn’t accept the development would “decimate” Uckfield. Most of the people charging their cars might send an email, use the facilities, have a coffee, and he didn’t think that would have a detrimental impact on the town.
He added: “Importantly I can’t see any opposition to this application from our statutory consultees. Not one. And I feel that we would have very limited grounds for refusal on that basis.
“Lots of people have talked about highway safety. Highways don’t object to this. It went through five rounds of consultation with highways. They have crossed every t and dotted every i on this occasion so I don’t think a proposal for refusal on highway grounds would stand up to scrutiny.
“I agree with this and for the reasons I have given I propose approval of this application.”