NEWS that a proposed solar farm project will now go before a public hearing has been met with frustration by residents and politicians.

The Science Museum, in partnership with Swindon Commercial Services, wants to build a giant solar farm on the site of the former airfield just outside Wroughton.

Planning permission was granted for the 40MW farm, which would be one of the largest in the UK, but following objections from a number of groups, including the West Downs area of outstanding natural beauty, Natural England and English Heritage, the Secretary of State Eric Pickles has called for a public inquiry to be held to decide whether the farm should go ahead.

However, the decision has angered residents who supported the scheme for the benefits it could bring the area.

Resident Steve Harcourt said: “This is a very disappointing decision.

“At a public consultation held last spring about 300 people came along and the majority thought it was a good plan which will bring employment and investment to the area.

“On the Facebook page we held a poll in October and once again almost everyone was in favour.

“It flies in the face of so-called localism if a decision which is supported on a local level can be overturned by central Government.”

Much of the criticism has been levelled at the groups for objecting to the decision without taking into consideration local opinion on the issue, which could eventually have wider implications.

Coun Dale Heenan (Con, Covingham and Dorcan), the cabinet member for sustainability, said: “The decision to hold a public inquiry four months after the decision was made is incredibly frustrating.

“My fear now is that the democratic decision to approve is overturned by a planning inspector and that will have national policy implications for Planning, Localism and Energy.

“We need some perspective because it is about putting solar panels on a Tarmac airfield – an airfield which, along with most of Swindon, can already be seen in distant views from Barbury Castle.

“The AONB Board and Natural England were the only ones to raise objections and the Minister has decided to hold a public inquiry because of this since he believes there are planning issues of more than local importance involved.”

South Swindon MP Robert Buckland has said there needs to be a change of approach from AONB but what is most important now is that the public inquiry is held as soon as possible.

He said: “I find this incredibly frustrating. I can understand why the Secretary of State has taken this decision because of the objection and if it were ignored it might set a precedent.

“I think there needs to be change of culture with the AONB to consider more local issues.

“There should have been a consultation with the people of Wroughton, who have largely been in favour of the solar farm.

“I have spoken with the Secretary of State because the important thing now is for the inquiry to be held as quickly as possible.”

But Henry Oliver, the director of AONB, welcomed the decision.

He said: “As we have made clear, this proposal would have an unacceptable impact on this nationally protected landscape, and in particular on the setting of historic Barbury Castle, which is a country park popular with local people and a key point on the Ridgeway National Trail.

“We welcome the recognition of these issues and that the matter will receive proper consideration by the Secretary of State for the Environment.”