Lower quality agricultural land potentially available for arrays

An inspector has disagreed with a claim that a 5.8MW solar farm in Somerset would not involve a significant loss of high quality agricultural land, ruling that a search for less sensitive sites had not been undertaken.

The appellant and local authority disputed how much of the 13ha site involved the best and most versatile agricultural land, the former claiming that it totalled no more than 31 per cent of the land area and the latter asserting that it was 69 per cent. The council also argued that since the scheme exceeded one hectare it involved a major development which by definition would result in a significant loss of high value land. The appellant rejected this claim, stating that it was only necessary to consult Natural England on proposals involving sites in excess of 20ha, and highlighted a screening direction by the secretary of state who had ruled that it did not require an environmental assessment.

In the inspector's opinion the scale of the proposed solar farm involved significant development in the context of paragraph 112 of the national planning policy framework and this was interchangeable with ‘large scale’ as defined in the planning practice guidance on renewable and low carbon energy. Even if the appellant was correct the loss of 31 per cent of high quality land required a justification which in part relied on a demonstration that no alternative sites of lower quality existed. Insufficient evidence had been provided to prove that this test was met and despite the scheme being reversible the conflict with policy remained. When this was added to the adverse impact on the landscape the appeal was dismissed.

Inspector: John Wilde; Written representations

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