The proposed Sandridge Solar Farm development near Melksham is said to be offering the largest community benefit fund for a solar project in the UK by its supporters.

Three out of four local parish councils have voted in favour of it and Duncan Hames, MP for the Chippenham constituency, which includes Melksham and the site of the proposed development, visited the site recently.

Mr Hames said: “Like all developments, solar farms should be sensitively located and designed. When I visited the site of the Sandridge Solar project, I was struck by how secluded and well screened it appears to be.

"Once complete, it could power all of Melksham with clean energy when the sun is shining. The community benefit fund is an attractive way to ensure the local community benefits as well.”

If approved, a community fund of £44,000 per year, index-linked for the 25-year lifetime of the project, would be set up and managed locally and independently to fund local projects bringing economic, environmental or social benefits.

This amounts to over £1 million for the expected duration of the scheme.

St John Hughes, director of the development company Sandridge Solar Power, who lives near Holt, said: “This is a large scheme and as responsible developers we think it’s really important to share the benefits with the local community.

"We believe this is the largest community benefit fund proposal of its type in the country, and want the neighbouring parish councils to ensure the funds are used on projects that will deliver a genuine advantage to local residents.”

Wiltshire Council will also retain 100 per cent of the business rates from the project, following a change in the law in April 2013. A project of this size could be expected to contribute around £160,000 per year to the county.

The scheme will also provide a consistent income to help support the farmers who own the land on which it will be built.

Supporters of the scheme say that by enabling diversification it will help preserve the agricultural character of the local landscape over the long term and help maintain farming as a local way of life.

Sheep would continue to graze so the land, which is low-grade agricultural, will not be taken out of food production.

Local farmer, Simon Cottle, who is one of the landowners, said: “There is increasing economic pressure on farmers to diversify income, and at the same time an expectation by the wider community to continue farming the land and acting as its stewards.

"Sandridge Solar Farm will be sited on Grade 4 land, which has limited potential for agricultural productivity, and it is therefore of even greater importance that farming activities are combined with renewable energy generation in order to secure the long-term management of the land.”