The scheme comprised 38,000 solar panels on 24 hectares that the appellant accepted mostly comprised best and most versatile agricultural land. Relying on an appeal decision from Suffolk and English planning policy, the council asserted that the appellant should have undertaken a sequential test to assess whether less valuable land was available. It pointed out that Planning Policy Wales sees best-quality land as a finite resource that should be protected unless there is an overriding need and land of lower quality is not available.
In rejecting the claim that a full sequential test was required, the inspector concluded that planning policy on this matter was devolved to the Welsh government. Practice guidance for Wales makes it clear that renewable energy developments involving high-quality land are reversible, he reasoned.
Another consideration related to the general dearth of lower quality land in the county with grid access. Given the scheme's temporary nature, he decided that it would preserve land's capacity to revert to agriculture while maintaining its high quality. Since the scheme would not have an unacceptable visual impact or fundamentally alter the character of the landscape, he concluded that the benefits of producing electricity from a renewable source were to be welcomed.
He awarded partial costs to the appellant due to the council’s late submission of evidence on the sequential test and loss of high-quality land. This led to an adjournment on the first day of the inquiry while the appellant considered a response, including further written evidence. There could be no justification for introducing a matter that had not been communicated to the appellant until so late in the day, he ruled. This had extended the period of the inquiry and led to fragmented preparation and consideration of the evidence, he noted.
Inspector: Clive Nield; Inquiry