A planning dispute over using solar panels has delayed a decision on whether Cambridge ice cream firm Jack’s Gelato can move its manufacturing site to Manor Farm, Girton.
South Cambridgeshire District Council is yet to formally approve change of use after disagreeing with proposals by Jack’s Gelato for solar panels.
Manor Farm is the small holding once home to former county council deputy leader Roger Hickford before he quit both the tenancy, and shortly afterwards the council, in 2021.
Hickford had won change of use for a canine training centre at Manor Farm but never got to implement his plans fully after an investigation questioned how he had been allowed to secure a tenancy on the Cambridgeshire County Council owned farmhouse and land.
Once he left, the county council accepted a tenancy application from Jacks Gelato.
The company applied for change of use last December to use the site for ice cream manufacturing with a supporting array of solar panels.
But after months of wrangling, the company has agreed to withdraw the solar panels from their application.
The application is being processed by Charlotte Peet, a senior planner with the Greater Cambridge that handles applications for both Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council.
In a recent letter to agents for the ice cream firm, she says reasons for ‘very special circumstances’ (VSC) for solar panels are not explained in sufficient detail.
And she quizzed the agent on the reasons for Jack’s Gelato wanting to move to Manor Farm.
“The first VSC of the proposal is the renewable energy generation, this section could be further explained,” she said.
“Will the solar panels completely power the building, or will it cover part of the operation?
“The statement needs to provide information on why the proposal site is suitable for the operation of Jack’s Gelato, where is their existing manufacturing operations?
“Why is this site the most suitable, were any other sites explored as part of this consideration (why were these discounted)?
“There needs to be justification as to why this needs to be located in the Green Belt, rather than just a countryside location for example?
“The statement should go into why this site is most suitable for Jack’s Gelato, position in relation to the city, how employees can get to this site etc.
“The document should explore positioning the solar panels closer to the building, rather than protruding out into the countryside in the south east position, could they be contained closer to the building.”
Her letter, sent last month, came nearly six months after the change of use application was made.
Ms Peet continued: “The statement needs to go into the benefits of the proposal much more, it may be helpful to think through social, environmental, and economic matters.
“What are the employee benefits and benefits to business of having this site in operation? Is it better than their existing arrangement?
“Are there any benefits to the local community such as educational opportunities or opening the wider site? Will there be a significant biodiversity net gain (this would need to be demonstrated)?
“If this consent is granted to convert the building, then this should be added to the statement for the solar panel application. “
Ms Peet writes: “The document states the building cannot accommodate some panels for various reasons, including the building not being able to structurally accommodate the panels. Has a structural survey been undertaken to evidence this point?
“Could a small number of panels be accommodated on the south west slope?
“The document states that the car parking area cannot house the panels due to conflict with deliveries and parking, however there appears to be plenty of room to park and turn so what is the conflict?
“Could a small number of panels be accommodated in this location? In addition, if there is shadowing that would prevent this area being used then a plan showing the shadows needs to be submitted.
“The document states that the panels are best located to the south east of the buildings, they would project out in a linear form.
“There appears to be some contradiction as it is suggested that this site would be best in terms of overshadowing issues, however then suggested that additional planting would be achieved along the boundary and wildflower planting around the array.
“It is difficult to understand how any meaningful planting, or any wildflowers could be achieved given the overshadowing concerns.
“If overshadowing is used as justification, the shadowing and the impact on the efficiency needs to be demonstrated. Overshadowing plans would be helpful.
“Following this email, I expect confirmation of the solar panels being removed and confirmation of agreement to an EOT (extension of time) to be sent in writing.
“If you do not remove the solar panels by Monday 12th June, the application will be refused.”
Jack’s Gelato agent told South Cambridgeshire Council that the company has a strong environmental focus and will be net zero no later than 2030.
“It uses electric vehicles and has minimised use of the single fossil fuel vehicle in its fleet to less than 1000 miles a year, which will be replaced with an electric version when the opportunity arises,” says the agents.
“It uses no other fossil fuels in its operations. Every employee travels to work by foot, cycle, or train.
“The company produces less landfill waste than the average household, and far less than the average food business. It is in the process of in investing in equipment that will reduce water consumption by over 96%.
“The company has invested huge resources, both in time and money in sourcing sustainable packaging. This is truly sustainable, which reaches beyond plant-based plastics that many businesses have accepted as a solution.
“Single use plastic and bioplastic has been completely removed. Jack’s Gelato leads by example and encourages the wider industry to adopt the same practices.
“The business provides high quality jobs in a sector that is not known for this.
“Salaries are upwards of 20% higher than industry averages, along with a host of other benefits not seen in this sector.
“The business provides high quality jobs in a sector that is not known for this. Salaries are upwards of 20% higher than industry averages, along with a host of other benefits not seen in this sector. “
Agents add that Jack’s Gelato is an inclusive employer which promotes and improves diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
James Melville, director of Claxton Planning Services that submitted the application on behalf of Jack’s Gelato, has now written back to Ms Peet
“Please accept this email as confirmation of the removal of the solar panel element from the planning application,” he confirmed.
The county council had advertised Manor Farm, Girton, to let and said it “comprises about 9 acres of pastureland, a three-bedroom house and a multi-purpose building, both recently refurbished”.
Claxton Planning argued that their proposals would establish “an Artisan Ice Cream manufacturer on a site that has previously had permission for a significantly more intensive Canine Training Centre Use whilst also boosting biodiversity on site and creating a blueprint for a small, truly sustainable and community orientated business.
“It also creates much needed rural jobs in a sustainable location that is easily accessible via public transport”.
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