In a decision letter issued this week, Greg Clark dismissed an appeal against Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s decision in September 2014 to refuse permission for the proposed solar farm on land to the south of the village of Five Oak Green, against officer recommendation for conditional approval.
In refusing permission for the development, Clark agreed with the conclusions and recommendations of inspector John Woolcock, who recommended that Capel Grange Solar Energy's appeal be dismissed and planning permission refused.
In his decision letter, Clark said that significant weight should be given to the contribution that the scheme would make to the government’s commitment to tackle climate change "by reducing carbon dioxide emission and towards energy security, along with ecological enhancement, and the benefits that would result to the local economy from job creation and farm diversification".
But Clark said that the proposal would be "at odds with national policy and guidance, which encourages the effective use of land by focussing large-scale solar farms on previously developed and non-agricultural land".
The letter said that, reflecting a written ministerial statement published in March, Clark had considered whether there is compelling evidence to justify the proposal’s location on the best and most versatile agricultural land. "The significant underutilisation of 14.4 hectares of the best and most versatile agricultural land is a factor that weighs heavily against the proposal," the decision letter said.
It added that the secretary of state had attached "special weight and considerable importance to the moderate adverse effect on the setting of a listed building, as well as giving substantial weight to the harm to the green belt".
Earlier this year, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council granted permission for a smaller 13.2-hectare solar farm covering part of the appeal site.
Clark’s refusal of the Five Oak Green solar park proposals follows his dismissal last month of an appeal against Mole Valley District Council’s decision to refuse permission for a 32.5-hectare solar park.
In July, the communities secretary called in controversial plans to build a 24MW solar farm on a site of special scientific interest in Dorset.