The funding for a multi-million pound solar project in Wokingham which will see a farmer kicked off the land he rents has been approved.

More than £20 million will be spent on a new solar farm in Barkham which will see approximately 72,000 solar panels installed on the land.

In total, £20,283,000 will be spent on the solar farm, which will be funded through borrowing.

The scheme has proven controversial, as it involves evicting cattle farmer Andrew Lake off the land, who rents it as agricultural land from Wokingham Borough Council.

READ MORE: Farmer speaks out over being chucked off solar farm land

He blasted the plan for swallowing up valuable farm land and warned that the land would be lost forever once the solar farm has completed its ‘lifecycle’. The council has said that the land will be returned to agricultural use after 25 years.

His fears were echoed by Liberal Democrat Councillor Sarah Kerr (Evendons), who expressed concern that the farm could be reclassified as a brownfield site once the ‘lifecycle’ ends.

During the meeting, Cllr Kerr asked: “There is a risk that at the end of use as a solar farm, after 25 years, this site may not be restored to the prime agricultural land it currently is, and I’m concerned about the risk of a change of use.”

At this point, Cllr John Halsall, the leader of the council (Conservative, Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe), asked Cllr Kerr to ask her question rather than make a speech.

To that, Cllr Kerr replied: “I’m getting to the question, please do not interrupt me and waste my time!

“There is a possibility that it could be classified as a brownfield site, which means houses, what is this local authority doing to mitigate against this risk of a change of use, after the solar farm is gone?”

Bracknell News: Farmer Andrew Lake, who will have to leave the farmland if the plan is approved. Credit: Andrew LakeFarmer Andrew Lake, who will have to leave the farmland if the plan is approved. Credit: Andrew Lake

Cllr Gregor Murray, executive member for emissions (CON, Norreys)  answered: “It’s a really interesting point that you raise Sarah, yes there is the potential risk of that it might classified as a brownfield site at the end of its use. But my understanding of planning guidance and the regulations in relation to this is that we won’t be the authority that determines whether it not it will become a brownfield site, it will come down to national planning guidance, that would determine that, not us as a borough.

“My personal intention would be that it returns to be farming, or that it continues to be a solar farm long into the future, but we can’t guarantee that right now. But what we guarantee is that by turning it into a solar farm, it will not be housing right now, which definitely would never be returned to farming use in 25 years time. So my personal view is I’d much rather take the potential that it might become a brownfield over the actual of it becoming housing.”

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He went on to proclaim the benefits he saw in the scheme, which he said would reduce the carbon footprint of the borough by approximately one per cent or the equivalent of the council’s annual energy use.

He also highlighted the tree planting element of the scheme, which would involve planting roughly 18,000 trees, and the measures included to  protect hedgerows and footpaths around the site.

It is hoped that the solar farm will generate half a million pounds for the council year, after running costs and servicing the debt are factored in. Cllr Murray then said that money can be reinvested into the council’s other climate emergency initiatives, some of which will come at a net cost to the community.

Bracknell News: West Berkshire Solar Farm, Burghfield Common, similar to the one that will be built at High Barn Farm in Barkham. Credit: UGCWest Berkshire Solar Farm, Burghfield Common, similar to the one that will be built at High Barn Farm in Barkham. Credit: UGC

The solar farm scheme also came under fire from the Labour Party during the Local Elections. Former Labour councillor Andy Croy criticised the plan as being ineffectual in the council’s quest towards carbon neutrality.

Previously, Cllr Kerr argued  the impact of the solar farm on tackling climate change in the borough would be “small” and instead suggested that solar panels should be put on supermarkets, new housebuilds and other buildings rather than “prime agricultural land.”

However, spending for the massive project was approved unanimously by Wokingham Borough Council’s executive committee on Thursday, July 29.

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All of the executive committee are Conservatives.

The fate of the scheme now rests on it being approved by the borough’s planning committee.

The plan for the solar farm was submitted in March and it is due to be decided this September.

You can observe the plan for the solar farm by putting reference 211081 into the council’s planning portal: