A VILLAGE infamous for fracking protests is celebrating being given the go-ahead to build a community owned solar park.

Councillors were unanimously in favour of the five megawatt (MW) park which will include more than 18,500 panels.

 It would match the electricity demand of Balcombe and West Hoathly. 

It is one of the most ambitious energy projects the UK has seen so far but campaigners in support of the plans say the next challenge will be raising money for the farm.

Millie Darling, 10:10 campaign manager, said: “We are delighted with the decision today. “When people can choose their energy future they choose renewable, not fracking. Soon Repower Balcombe will be asking the nation to invest in this project and people across the country will have the opportunity to get involved in this positive vision for our energy future."

 Thomas Parker, technical director at Repower Balcombe, said: "This is great news. We're ecstatic. Now it's time to get to work start raising finance and start building our community solar farm. It's really happening. The fracking village is going solar.

“The public support has really been wonderful. It is happening right on their doorstep, and yet public support for this project is even higher than the national average support for renewables, and that’s already pretty high. It’s exactly the opposite of the NIMBY culture, “The people came along to the public consultation event and said yes."

Keith Taylor, MEP for South East England, said: “Whether the Government likes it or not, communities across the country are coming together to take back control of their energy supply.

 “This sends a strong message to the rest of the UK that a community owned renewable energy revolution is both feasible and practical.”

Green Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas said: “It is great news that this project has been given the go-ahead. This solar installation will be locally owned, wildlife-friendly and a real asset to the community.

“Balcombe is showing how things can be done differently – to the benefit of local people. Brilliant projects like this really do highlight the prospects of community-owned renewables projects.

“I hope Government ministers have their eyes on Balcombe today – and that the huge success there persuades them of the urgent need to rethink their short-sighted cuts to support for Britain’s renewables industry.”

Councillor Chris Hersey, vice-chairman of Mid Sussex District Council's planning committee council's district planning committee, which granted approval for the site in West Hoathly, said: "I think this scheme is an excellent opportunity to do something about climate change.

"Overall, I thought it was a well-thought out scheme which will be in an area that is unlikely to cause any problems."

The news comes as industry experts warned planned cuts to solar support by Government could put up to 27,000 jobs at risk.

The South East could be the worst affected, with more than 4,000 solar jobs in peril. The North West faces 3,500 of its 4,300 solar jobs being threatened, according to the Solar Trade Association.


Story so far

IN THE summer of 2013 thousands of protesters descended on Balcombe.

Energy firm Cuadrilla started exploratory drilling for oil, sparking fears that it would go on to frack there.

In the wake of the controversy, Repower Balcombe was founded with the help of the campaign 10:10 with the aim of seeking to develop clean, locally-owned power.

Yesterday Mid Sussex District Council's planning committee approved plans for the solar park in West Hoathly, which campaigners hailed as one of the UK's most ambitious energy projects.