A new solar energy farm south of Redcar and the A174 has been granted planning permission despite concerns over its impact on so-called heritage assets.

Members of Redcar and Cleveland Council’s regulatory committee went against a planning officer’s recommendation to refuse the plans by EDF Renewables UK at a location near Yearby village.

The officer’s report had concluded that the proposed development was a harmful imposition upon the agricultural landscape, which constituted the setting of nearby conservation areas in historic Kirkleatham and Yearby, along with two listed farmsteads in the vicinity, Turners Arms and Fell Briggs Farmhouse.

The council’s development services manager Claire Griffiths told a meeting that while the environmental benefits of the scheme were acknowledged, they did not outweigh the substantial harm and impact on the conservation areas.

But a majority of the committee approved the facility which could generate up to 49.9 megawatts of renewable electricity a year.

It will help power the Tees Green Hydrogen project being planned on the site of the former Basic Oxygen Steelmaking plant at Lackenby for which a planning application was submitted in December last year with a view to offsetting carbon emissions from local industry.

The development, which will be adjacent to the crematorium and memorial park at Kirkleatham, will feature an array of ground mounted three metre high solar photovoltaic panels, and will be accessed via a new entrance being created off Fishponds Road/the B1269.

It will also include up to a hundred CCTV cameras mounted on four metre high poles and be surrounded by 2.4 metre high fencing around its perimeter.

While some arable land will be taken out of crop production, low intensity sheep grazing will continue alongside the development.

EDF Renewables, which went out to public consultation over the plans in 2022, had previously attempted to mitigate concerns about their visual impact by excluding a field in order to create an increased buffer between the site and Yearby village.

It said all existing trees and hedges will be retained with new tree planting aiming to provide “maximum screening” and mask the view from the crematorium, which shares a boundary with the site.

Committee chairman Councillor Dr Tristan Learoyd said he was “torn” over the application.

He said: “I am hugely for solar and wind power and renewable sources of energy, but preferably owned by people of the borough to supply energy to the people of the borough.

“I also understand the implications in terms of the site – we do have a large amount of lower worth, industrial land which could potentially have been built on – and I understand the heritage argument as well which is sensitive.”

Councillor Malcolm Head said while solar panels were needed, he was not convinced by the site as it was next to a main road.

He also suggested there could be an impact on car drivers from any potential glare, although this was countered by the applicant which said vegetation screening and anti-reflective coating added to the PV panels meant it would not be an issue.

Councillor Stephen Martin said: “The contractor has stated that the development needs to be in a certain area because of connectivity.

“We either work with these companies or decline now and it may not go ahead because there is nowhere else for it to go.

“I am inclined to accept especially with all the answers the company has given us about our questions.”

Councillor Philip Thomson said there was not yet a detailed understanding of the archaeological picture at the development site.

He said the decision faced by committee members was not straightforward, proposing they should accept the officer’s recommendation to refuse and suggesting the energy company should revisit their choice of site and come back with another application.

However Cllr Thomson’s proposal did not win sufficient support with the majority of councillors voting instead for a proposal from Cllr Martin to accept the application.

Cllr Learoyd, who abstained, said planning conditions could be drawn up to further reduce the effects on the two conservation areas and a full archaeological survey carried out.

Katie Emmitt, speaking on behalf of the applicant EDF Renewables, said high skilled jobs would be created from the farm’s construction and it would contribute to net zero carbon efforts.

She said there were “compelling” reasons to go against the officer’s recommendations, adding: “We believe the site is an excellent location for a solar farm with minimal impact on the environment.

“We know from developing a number of solar farms throughout the UK that heritage is an important consideration, but we have selected this site carefully, adapted the design and balanced all impacts.”

The firm was committed to maintaining a good relationship with local residents over the lifetime of the project, which could last 40 years before being decommissioned and the site restored to its natural state.

This would include setting up a “community benefit fund” of £20,000 a year over this period for local initiatives.