The council had not undertaken a borough-wide capacity study to identify the full range of constraints and opportunities posed by renewable energy projects. In the absence of such information, the inspector found it very difficult to assess the extent to which it was "necessary", in the context of government guidance, to accommodate such development on agricultural land.
Although the council considered that the appellants’ sequential test demonstrated that farmland of lower quality was unavailable for the project, local residents were critical of the analysis. The inspector expressed serious reservations about the appellant’s decision to limit consideration of sites of lower grade land to those within a single ownership. While recognising that this approach would minimise project complexity, she reasoned that negotiations with two or more landowners should not be overly complicated.
He noted that the developers had contacted various landowners, but further discussions had not progressed for commercial reasons. In her opinion, it was not possible to conclude that these other sites were not available. On that basis, she decided that the appellant had not met the government’s policy requirement to show compelling evidence of a need to use best and most versatile agricultural land.
She was also concerned that the solar farm would adversely affect the local landscape, being visible from a public right of way enjoyed by local residents. She noted that from certain viewpoints it would be seen in the context of a grade I listed church constituting a landmark feature, adversely affecting its setting. Despite recognising this harm as less than substantial, she afforded it significant weight in dismissing the appeal.
Inspector: Jessica Graham; Hearing