A solar farm 136 times bigger than a Premier League pitch could harm “the very essence” of one Hertfordshire village, campaigners have warned.

AGR 4 Solar Limited has applied for permission to build an 88-hectare solar station at Priory Farm and Great Wymondley.

The plans feature around 150,000 solar panels to feed 49.995MWe (Megawatt Electric) into the grid.

North Herts Council green-lit the plans last November, but levelling up secretary Michael Gove “called in” the proposal, triggering an inquiry which began on Tuesday, September 12.

On its first day, barrister for the applicant David Hardy told the inquiry planning permission must be granted if the council and Westminster government are “serious about their commitments to tackling climate change”.

But Paul Harding, a Great Wymondley resident since 1982, objected to the proposals and said the applicant would need to do away with the “green lung” between Hitchin, Letchworth and Stevenage.

Mr Harding, on behalf of Wymondley Parish Council and the Great Wymondley Village Association said: “As a rural location in the South East of England, we have to accept and acknowledge an element of disturbance due to the infrastructure of the country.

“The A1(M) passes by us, following the route of the old Great North Road.

“The main London to Edinburgh railway passes through the parish, partially visible and part in as cutting, and of course, we have a [National Grid] electricity substation on the edge of Little Wymondley.

“These are not, however, a reason to write off our landscape and open views, and neither are they reasons to assume that it makes the parish a natural home for even more infrastructure.”

The solar farm would have a 40-year lifespan.

“This open landscape will be lost for 40 years with the industrialisation of the area,” Mr Harding added.

He alleged the industrial scale of the proposal would “create a shadow over all aspects of life in our community”.

Mr Harding said: “The feeling of being watched whilst on family walks or bike rides, or maybe a romantic stroll, will be most intrusive from the CCTV cameras.

“The views in the changing seasons and agricultural activity that are intrinsic parts of the setting of our community … will be lost, replaced by the monotony of a single, unchanging vista as far as the eye can see of solar panels and unsightly buildings.

“This will have a negative effect upon people’s mental health.”

Mr Harding added “open countryside views are the very essence of our village and community” and said a solar farm runs against national and local policies to “safeguard the countryside from encroachment”.

Mr Hardy, on behalf of the applicant, gave his opening address first.

He told the committee: “It is all about green belt.”

As part of his address, Mr Hardy said: “Whilst there will be a very limited reduction in the openness of the green belt, impacts on openness would be temporary, commensurate with the life of the development only.”

He said renewable energy generation, legacy landscape enhancement, ecological enhancements and local economic benefits are sufficiently great to “clearly outweigh” green belt harms.

He pointed out North Herts Council had declared a climate emergency, and the UK Government is working towards a legally binding net-zero by 2050 target.

“If the council and the government are serious about their commitments to tackling climate change then actions are required,” he said.

“The proposed development is a temporary form of development and the majority of the land beneath the solar panels would remain in agricultural use, through sheep grazing, for the 40-year operational life of the solar farm.

“After this, it would be returned to full agricultural use following decommissioning.”

Mr Hardy said the plan will cause “less than substantial harm” to surrounding historic buildings, and that an archaeological mitigation strategy would be put into place.

“The proposed development is financially viable and can be brought forward well in advance of 2035 to start delivering the reductions in CO2 envisaged by legislation and national and local policy and strategy,” he said.

Caroline Daly, barrister for North Herts Council, said the Letchworth-based authority did not agree with the applicant over openness to the green belt, arguing an 88-hectare solar plant would significantly harm openness and “it would persist for a significant period”.

She said despite the disagreement, there are “very special circumstances” for green belt development.

Ms Daly said: “At a national level, there is a pressing need for a very substantial rollout of renewable power generation schemes of all kinds in order to meet the legally binding national target set by the Climate Change Act 2008 to achieve net zero by 2050.”

She added: “The council declared a climate emergency in 2019.

“The council has set itself the ambitious target of achieving a net-zero-carbon district by 2040.”

North Herts has only a “modest” supply of renewable energy, with solar farms generating just 11MW – four-and-a-half times less than the Wymondley plans would.

The inquiry is led by Inspector Richard Clegg and is due to wrap up on Friday, September 22.