PLANS have been submitted by a green group for what is thought to be the largest community-owned solar farm in the world.

Sustainable Charlbury has submitted a planning application to West Oxfordshire District Council for the £5m facility on land owned by the Cornbury Park Estate.

More than 22,000 panels would generate five megawatts of power for the National Grid, providing energy to all of the town’s 1,100 homes.

Supporters said it was vital to reduce reliance on fossil fuels but a countryside group said it “should be on an industrial estate”.

Chairwoman Liz Reason said: “It will help local people to engage with their energy use because at the moment we use it for everything and take it for granted.

“We can see where it’s leading us, which is not into a happy place.”

Mrs Reason, also a member of Charlbury Town Council, said the project had been supported by 87 per cent of residents in a survey.

She admitted it may face opposition because some of the 44-acre land is in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

But she said the not-for-profit scheme, which would be planted with trees, would be on a slope with panels only attached to metal frames at the bottom of the site.

She said: “The design that we’ve produced has taken visibility into account – it will be very difficult to see that it’s there from most viewpoints. It’s beautiful and looks completely different to any other solar park design I’ve seen.

“We’ve engaged with the community and people are happy about it.”

If permission is given, residents and businesses would be invited to invest in the project and become co-owners.

Lord Rotherwick, who owns the land, would provide a 22-year lease to Sustainable Charlbury for the “Southill Solar” development.

She said the plan chimed with the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s support for community energy projects.

Mrs Reason added: “This is exactly what the Government wants to see.”

But the West Oxfordshire branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England opposes the plans.

Chairman Gareth Hammond said: “It’s not a suitable location. You have to draw the line somewhere and the fact it’s in the AONB is a good reason to reject it.

“If you have to have it, then it should be on an industrial estate.

“This hasn’t been thought through very well.

“There are question marks about how efficient solar panels are. They don’t work at night and don’t store the electricity, so the potential gains don’t outweigh the blotting of the landscape.”

Westmill Solar, near Watchfield, was the first community-owned solar farm in the UK and is believed to be the largest of its kind. It has 1,600 members and generates five megawatts of power from its 30-acre site.