Proposals for massive solar farm near Coylton are a step closer after South Ayrshire Council offered no objection to the plan.

Objectors had slammed the plans for 100,000 solar panels, which will generate 85 megawatts of electricity and fill an area the equivalent of 15 football pitches, claiming it would damage the protected ecology of the area close to Martnaham Loch.

But councillors on the Regulatory Panel were concerned that the amount of cash being proposed for community benefit was just a tenth of that agreed with windfarms in the area.

The Scottish Government’s Energy Consent Unit makes the final decision on the application, with the council a statutory consultee.

Independent councillor Alec Clark asked an agent for the applicant Locogen for the amount of community money being put up by the company for each megawatt of electricity generated.

He was told that, over the 40 year operation of the facility, £500 would be given per megawatt. This totals around £22,500 each year.

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Cllr Clark was not impressed by the figures and said: “I would suggest that that is a very low level of community benefit.

"I am quite acquainted with the many windfarms we have around South Ayrshire, especially in the Carrick district, and the minimum community benefit there is £5,000 per megawatt.”

The agent Mr McTaggart said he recognised the point being made, but said: “It is essentially up to the ECU to decide whether this is respoanble and acceptable for this scale of development.”

Cllr Clark pointed out that when the first windfarms in the area were erected, the community benefit was £1100, a figure that was recognised as being too low.

He said: “I hope they [ECU] would recognise this is particularly low. We need to make sure that we get these figures right, because otherwise it will be a big short change for the community.”

A number of councillors sought assurances over various issues, including the condition of the road network, fire safety and environment.

Planners pointed out that, while these were points being considered by the ECU through the consultation, the council had sought advice from the Health and Safety Executive and were of a view that the proposals put in place are reasonable.

They added that the applicant had provided a plan to mitigate the impact of any fires in the facility and that it would be required to provide a traffic plan and address issues raised around the environment by NatureScot.

SNP councillor Craig Mackay said he welcomed the fact that the proposal was for renewable energy that was not a windfarm, saying that they were at ‘saturation point’ in Ayrshire.

Cllr Clark proposed that the recommendation not to object to the application be accepted, provided the concerns around the level of community benefit was raised.

This was agreed by the panel.