THE fate of plans to build one of the country’s biggest solar farms is set to be decided at a public inquiry starting next week.
Due to be located at the Wroughton Airfield, the project is a joint venture between Swindon Commercial Services and the Science Museum to build the farm, which would provide power to 12,000 homes.
The proposal was given approval by the council and has strong local support, but the Planning Inspector has raised concerns because of the impact the solar farm will have on the North Wessex Downs, designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The inquiry, which will run over six days, will start on Monday and be held at the civic offices.
Those behind the scheme are still confident that it will be given the go ahead and bring a huge benefit to Wroughton and the surrounding area.
James Owen, of SCS, said: “It was a bit of a confidence knock when the decision was made but we are all still confident it will go through.
“The inspector has a number of key questions around the plan and I think we will have answers to them all. He will be looking at the impact on the heritage of the area, the impact on the landscape and place within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“He can also ask about any concerns he may have.
“We have spent the last three months putting our case together so we believe we are in a position to answer anything that is needed.”
Following the inquiry, the inspector will then make a recommendation which will be passed to the Secretary of State, who will make the final decision.
When the decision was first made by the planning committee there was a strong level of support among local residents, including Steve Harcourt.
He said: “My position since that first decision has not really changed and I am still very supportive of the proposal, and a lot of the people I speak with feel the same.
“I hope the inspector sees the benefit it will have to the community. I am a regular walker around where they are proposing to put the solar farm and I think it will be almost unnoticeable.”
However, the solar farm is not welcomed by all with some strongly opposed to the plan because of its impact on the surrounding area.
Henry Oliver, the director of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has welcomed the inquiry.
He said: “As we have made clear from the outset, this proposal would have an unacceptable impact on this nationally protected landscape, and 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.”