WINCHESTER planners have approved the first major solar farm in the area.

Some 50,000 photovoltaic panels are set to be erected on three fields between Alresford and Bishop’s Sutton.

Councillors on the planning committee were divided over what is in effect a power station with three voting against and seven in favour.

The committee heard that the solar farm will not be visible from most places so would have little visual impact on the landscape. It would be 300m from the nearest house.

But villagers from Bishop’s Sutton spoke out against the proposals concerned about the ‘industrialisation’ of the countryside.

Parish council chairman Aileen Miller said: “Solar parks should not be built on greenfield sites or inappropriate parts of the countryside. The need for renewable energy should not override environmental protection, and the minister Greg Barker has directed planners to turn down such applications.”

Another villager, Martin Henderson, said; “I support solar farms. There is a right place and land off Whitehill Lane is not the right place. The size is disproportionate to the location and it will harm the character and appearance of the countryside.”

The planning permission will be for 25 years and the land will not been considered ‘brownfield’. If the solar farm is removed, it must be returned to farmland.

Cllr Kim Gottlieb asked if granting permission would create a precedent for other local applications.

But Julie Pinnock, head of development at the council, said not, with each proposal being considered on its merits. “I don’t think it would set a precedent if it was allowed here.”

There is currently another proposal for farmland at Itchen Stoke and a large one at Southwick near Fareham. Smaller solar farms have been erected on former landfill sites at Funtley and Shedfield in the Southern Parishes.

Applicants Beta Solar say the 2,108 solar arrays, each with 24 photovoltaic panels could generate power for between 3,500-5,000 homes.

There were 26 objections and four letters of support including Alresford Town Council.

Mark Candlish, for the developer, said in 20 years time solar would be the cheapest form of energy.