PLANS for 44 solar panels to be built in an area of outstanding natural beauty have been approved, despite concerns that it could damage the area.

Councillors on Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council's Development Control panel supported the motion to approve plans for the panels to be built at Green Lodge, on Gangbridge Lane, St Mary Bourne, in the North Wessex Downs AONB, despite being advised by officers that the public benefit would not outweigh the damage it would do to the surrounding areas.

Lisa Souden, assistant planning manager, labelled the scheme as "an alien feature within a very, very sensitive landscape", adding that it would be for personal use only.

These views were echoed by Cllr Nick Robinson (Con, Bramley and Sherfield), who said: "I can't understand the scale of this. If every house in the countryside needed 44 panels the whole countryside would be covered."

Nigel Howard-Jones, the owner of Green Lodge, applied for permission to add the photovoltaic cells after receiving an unexpected high energy bill, he told the virtual meeting last week.

He added that the scheme could, in the future, be adapted to allow for battery storage technology to be fitted.

And many councillors on the committee argued that it was these small projects that do deliver significant public benefit, by taking demand out of the National Grid.

Cllr Andy McCormick (Labour, Brighton Hill South) argued: "We are where we are with the environment. We desperately need to change our ways as a nation and I am very pleased to see that individuals are taking action."

Meanwhile, Cllr Chris Tomblin (BDI, Bramley and Sherfield), added: "There is a great benefit to everybody in schemes like this because they all add up."

The scheme was approved, subject to more screening to stop the solar panels being seen by adjacent properties.