An energy storage facility will be built on fields despite local opponents' warnings it could have a "catastrophic" effect on the landscape.

Renewable Energy Systems Ltd was narrowly given planning permission to build the facility on part of a field near the Spennymoor electricity substation at Thinford Lane, Thinford.

Applicant Jenna Folkard said storing and releasing electricity was essential for a stable system with increasingly complex supply and demand needs.

The project would help provide energy, prevent blackouts, benefit the grid network and all consumers and allow more renewable projects, she told a Durham County Council planning committee meeting.

She said it was carefully designed and sited, away from residential properties and mostly screened by vegetation and planting, with a pond and woodland to help biodiversity.

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The plan attracted 25 letters of objection raising issues of noise, dust and light pollution, traffic, road safety, loss of agricultural land, landscape harm and risk of fire and explosion.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England objected, saying it did not constitute renewable energy.

Objector Kevin Storey asked whether "this large scheme should be placed smack in the middle of a set of arable land directly below a town that has very little open space already for its residents to use for recreation and exercise".

He said: "The catastrophic effect on the landscape really can't be overstated. In fact it's devastational.

"They do not demonstrate that there is a need for a development at this location.

"The question of noise has not been addressed, yet once built and despite all of these assurances it's the residents that will suffer.

"£150,000 in business rates and a chunk of money to the landowner versus massive loss of amenity to a whole town is simply not in balance."

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Planning officers said there would be some localised harm to the landscape but it would not be unacceptable and there would be a minimum loss of land.

They argued it was essential infrastructure and the benefits of the scheme outweighed the harm.

Cllr Craig Martin said he understood residents' concerns but "this is something we kind of need in the coming future.

"If we are going to have more renewable energy that is intermittent, we're going to need more facilities like this to take the load and to feed into the system.

"It is not near any kind of housing. There's going to be zero disturbance because nobody even comes and goes most of the time."

The Northern Echo: Cllrs Craig Martin and Maura McKeon spoke during a Durham County Council planning meeting.Cllrs Craig Martin and Maura McKeon spoke during a Durham County Council planning meeting. (Image: Northern Echo, Newsquest)

Cllr Maura McKeon spoke of power cuts and said: "We're going to have more storms this winter because of climate change. We've got an ageing infrastructure nationally for power.

"Completely understand where the objectors are coming from, but legally there's nothing we can do as a council to turn this down."

Cllr Cathy Hunt said: "It is a very good application.

"What I can't get my head around is why we're still using green belt and agricultural land to build these things on. So for that reason I can't support this application."

Cllr Peter Molloy said: "If this was to go ahead, we could be faced with another application just north of it from the solar farm again. We knocked that back on the same policies.

The Northern Echo: Cllrs (l-r) Cathy Hunt, Peter Molloy and Carl Marshall spoke during a Durham County Council planning meeting.Cllrs (l-r) Cathy Hunt, Peter Molloy and Carl Marshall spoke during a Durham County Council planning meeting. (Image: Northern Echo, Newsquest)

"We are using up arable land. I will not be supporting this application."

Cllr Carl Marshall said: "There's only very limited locations where you can put these batteries.

"I see no planning grounds to knock it back and I'm fully supportive of approving the scheme and going a little way to tackling the climate emergency."

Councillors voted 6-5 to approve the plan.

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