Council introduces local plan policy on solar farms

An Essex council has proposed a policy in its local plan to protect the highest grade farmland from solar farm development.

Solar: policy to restrict schemes to low grade agricultural land
Solar: policy to restrict schemes to low grade agricultural land

Tendring District Council’s revised renewable energy planning policy was agreed last week. It says that applicants will be encouraged to incorporate renewable energy technology into development where viable.

The council will permit proposals for solar farms on low grade agricultural land and other land with no agricultural function, it states.

However, it adds that solar farms on the highest value agricultural land (grades 1, 2 and 3a) will only be permitted if a developer can provide evidence that lower quality land is not available or practical and the benefits of the development outweigh any concerns over the loss of agricultural land.

The council has permitted one solar farm in its district, has received applications for six and has had pre-application discussions over another 14 projects, according to Carlo Guglielmi, Tendring District Council’s portfolio holder for planning.

The policy is part of the council’s local plan, which is due to undergo its final round of public consultation in the next couple of months and should be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in the spring, he said.

Some politicians and campaigners have raised concerns that solar farms will compromise food security by taking agricultural land out of production. In a Westminster Hall debate last week, Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson criticised a solar farm proposed in his constituency as "stopping food production equivalent to bread for 7,000 families or potatoes for 9,000 families each year".

The solar industry has produced best practice guidance which states that high-grade agricultural land should be avoided.

Mike Landy, senior policy analyst at trade association the Renewable Energy Association said: "This is in line with our views on responsible planning policy."

The association expects other local authorities to introduce similar policies in local plans going forward, he added.

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