Construction work has started on the UK’s largest solar power farm, thanks to the latest collaboration between law firm Thrings, which has its largest office in Swindon, and Royal Wootton Bassett-based land agency WebbPaton.
Agricultural land specialists at Thrings and WebbPaton acted on behalf of the landowner of the 230-acre site near Didcot, including negotiating the lease of the land to Hampshire-based solar farm developer INRG Solar.
When completed in April 2014, the site will generate around 41megwatts (MW) of power, enough for 10,000 homes.
Thrings, which also has offices in Bristol, London, Bath, and Reading, and WebbPaton have worked together on a number of large solar farm projects across Wiltshire and Oxfordshire over the past three years, including a 130-acre project in Castle Eaton and a 110-acre site in Calne.
Leasing land for solar projects has become among agricultural land owners because of the high level of returns they offer.
Thrings associate Catherine Strickland said: “Wiltshire and Oxfordshire are prime areas for solar projects due to sunlight and access to the National Grid to feed in the energy produced.
She said solar farms were traditionally developed on brownfield sites but recently the emphasis has shifted towards using agricultural land, which had led to legal issues such as conservation of the land as well as contract negotiations.
WebbPaton founder and partner George Paton added: “Renewables are a wonderful diversification for landowners looking to increase the value of their asset and achieve a higher return per acre.
“It is a relatively new sector in rural property transactions. However, we have already completed deals covering more than 2,000 acres – many of these with Thrings – and we expect to see interest to continue.
“We feel it is very important to consider the long-term management and conservation of any site when negotiating the deals. We ensure that the site is designed so it is not prominent on the landscape and that bonds are written into the contracts to ensure it is returned to its original use at the end of the lease.”
The Didcot solar farm will continue to be managed as a natural pasture land grazed by sheep to encourage diverse flora and fauna. It will supersede the proposed 40MW project at Wroughton by the Science Museum and Swindon Commercial Services as the UK's largest solar farm.
Planning consultants for INRG Solar on the site are Pegasus Group, which has bases in Cirencester and Bristol.
Mr Paton added: “Thanks to the number of projects we have worked on [with Thrings] we have developed a deep understanding of the things that are likely to happen in negotiations, things that funders require and obtaining the best outcome for the landowner.”