More than £90,000 was spent by North Herts Council to defend its decision to greenlight a huge solar farm in Great Wymondley, after ministers demanded an inquiry.

Michael Gove used his power as Levelling Up secretary to “call in” plans for a solar farm the size of 119 Wembley Stadium football pitches.

Locally elected councillors had already agreed the proposal met national and local policy tests for building in the Green Belt, at a meeting in November 2022.

After an inquiry process, ministers made a similar ruling and granted permission for the development in March 2024.

North Herts Council had to tell Michael Gove about its councillors’ original decision because the site covers more than 1,000 square metres and could “have a significant impact on the openness of the Green Belt”.

The Comet: Land has been earmarked for new housing (brown) at Great Ashby, Graveley and Wymondley, north of StevenageLand has been earmarked for new housing (brown) at Great Ashby, Graveley and Wymondley, north of Stevenage (Image: North Herts Council)

These were thresholds set out in a direction issued by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in 2021.

North Herts Council, represented by a barrister at the inquiry, spent £91,614 defending its position.

Liberal Democrat councillor Ruth Brown, of Royston Heath, is responsible for planning in North Hertfordshire.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, March 19, she said: “It has cost us £100,000 roughly in legal fees and making representations, which is regrettable.

“We’ve ended up with the same decision. It means it’s delayed the implementation and it’s cost us quite a bit of money.

“It seems a bit of a strange system and it’s very regrettable the Secretary of State should have called it in.

“It would be nice if councils were given the power to make their own decisions.”

Labour councillor Elizabeth Dennis, of Hitchin Walsworth, is leader of North Herts Council.

She said: “How novel it is that local authorities and local people should be empowered to make local decisions.

“It’s almost as if we know our communities and what works here better than central government.”

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Local government minister Simon Hoare – on behalf of Mr Gove – greenlit the solar farm.

In a decision letter, ministers ruled “the public benefits of the proposal do outweigh” harms to the Green Belt and heritage sites.

They noted the solar site could generate “sufficient electricity to meet the requirements of about 31 per cent of homes” which would aid in “moving away from reliance on fossil fuel sources of energy”.