PLANS to site one of the UK's biggest solar energy farms on the outskirts of Christchurch have been approved by councillors.

Work has now started on building the 118 acre (48 hectare) farm at Parley on land operated by Eco Sustainable Solutions.

The area involved is the equivalent of 65 football pitches and the £15 million scheme will use photovoltaic (PV) panels capable of directly converting sunlight into electrical current.

Currently used for turf cultivation, the Chapel Lane site has been specifically chosen for its screening with established hedgerows or woodland surrounding the proposed farm.

The planning application was submitted by Solar Power Generation Ltd which builds, operates and maintains large-scale solar PV parks across the UK.

Trelawney Dampney, Eco's managing director, said the decision of Christchurch Borough Council's planning committee to grant permission was "tremendous news."

He added: "Parley Solar Farm will be one of the biggest in the UK, offering a low carbon, renewable energy source.

"This is a key element of our plans to create an integrated renewable energy park at Parley which will also include anaerobic digestion and biomass facilities."

The PV panels will be ground mounted on racks angled at 30 degrees and between 0.8 metres and 2.9 metres high.

The solar farm is expected to take about six months to build and, once commissioned, will operate for approximately 25 years.

Founded in 1994, Eco employs 50 people and has an annual turnover of £10 million.

The company owns and operates the UK's leading purpose-built site for organics recycling and renewable energy generation, currently processing 250,000 tonnes of organic material each year across four facilities.

It will generate approximately 20 megawatts (MW) of low carbon 'green' electrical power, meeting the electricity needs of about 5,000 homes.