IN A shock twist Eric Pickles has blocked a controversial scheme to build one of the UK’s biggest solar farms in the Test Valley countryside.

The secretary of state for communities and local government’s intervention came within hours of Test Valley councillors giving German green energy giant Kronos the green light to build at Eveley Farm in Houghton.

Mr Pickles placed a ‘holding direction’ on the application while he decides whether or not to call it in and make a decision on the plans himself.

On Tuesday night Test Valley Borough Council’s planning control committee rubber stamped an earlier decision by the southern area committee to approve the scheme for 185,472 solar panels – despite officers recommending its refusal on the grounds of its size and impact on the landscape.

This was a scaled down version of an earlier 225,4560-panel scheme which had been rejected by the council.

Kronos appealed against the refusal of their original plan and the application was due to be the subject of a public inquiry due to start on May 13. However, Kronos said they would drop that appeal if their second scheme was approved.

Mr Pickles’ intervention has pleased opponents of the scheme.

Alan Josling from Broughton Against Kronos (BAKS) Solar said: “Although it goes without saying that we are extremely dissatisfied with the decision of the majority of planning committee members to ride roughshod over the wishes of the local community, BAKS members are clear that this is by no means the end of the road for us. We maintain our strong opposition to this proposal, especially given that Kronos has succeeded in rushing through this application.” At Tuesday’s planning control meeting councillors agreed that the project would benefit the environment and help reduce the impacts of climate change.

Councillors agreed that the project would benefit the environment and help reduce the impacts of climate change.

Valley Park member Alan Dowden said: “One issue we can’t hide from is climate change because it is already happening and we ignore it at our peril.”

Braishfield and Ampfield ward member Martin Hatley also backed the scheme saying it would provide essential green energy and that the number of people who would see it would be limited.

Andover Winton ward’s Chris Lynn also welcomed the proposed development. “We do need more power and the solar panels are better than 10 turbines.” he said.

Not all councillors were happy with the scheme. Romsey mayor Peter Hurst, Andover Alamein ward’s Janet Whiteley and Somborne and Michelmersh member Tony Ward all voted against it. Mr Hurst pointed out that the Government wasn’t encouraging solar farms to deliver renewable energy. “Farming is what the land is for not solar farms. The impact on the landscape would be too great,” he said.

Councillor Whiteley said the plans went against the borough’s countryside policies.

Before councillors debated the plans speakers from Broughton Parish Council and Broughton Pro Solar group spoke in favour of the application.

A handful of objectors, including a representative from Houghton Parish Council, said they were worried about the impact on the landscape.

The approved scheme covers 150 acres – 32 less that the original – and would generate enough energy to power 12,500 homes. The land is owned by Test Valley Borough councillor Danny Busk.

Kronos were unaware of the Secretary of State’s “holding direction” until informed by the Advertiser and at going to press had not come back to us with a comment on the latest developments.