In a decision issued this week, Greg Clark dismissed an appeal against South Gloucestershire Council’s October 2014 decision to refuse permission for the construction of a 7.76MW solar development on agricultural land near the hamlet of Latteridge.
Council planning officers had recommended AEE Renewables’ proposals for approval on the grounds that the scheme‘s "wider environmental benefits" outweighed its harm to the green belt.
However members of the authority’s Development Control (East) Committee rejected the application on the grounds that it represented inappropriate development in the green belt, was contrary to local policies designed to safeguard "good quality agricultural land" and was "detrimental to visual amenity".
Clark based his decision to back the stance of South Gloucestershire councillors on a 34-page report from planning inspector Jessica Graham, who also concluded that the appeal should be dismissed.
The decision letter issued on behalf of Clark said the secretary of state "agrees with [Graham] that the proposed solar farm would reduce, rather than preserve, the openness of this part of the green belt and that, for the duration of its existence, it would constitute the encroachment of development into the countryside."
"The secretary of state attaches substantial weight to the totality of harm that would be caused to the green belt," it said.
The letter continued: "He also endorses the inspector’s conclusion that the harm the proposal would cause to the character and appearance of the area, including its adverse impact on the visual amenity of the footpaths which cross the appeal site are factors of considerable weight."
Clark accepted that the development would have positive benefits for renewable energy targets, and noted that the scheme’s harm to local heritage assets would be "less than substantial".
However, he concurred with the inspector that there was no persuasive evidence that AEE Renewables had demonstrated that there were no alternative sites for a solar farm that would avoid using a site classified as "best and most versatile agricultural land".
A lack of other suitable land in the area had formed part of AEE Renewables "very special circumstances" case for development in the green belt, as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.
Last month Clark rejected an appeal over a 22.3-hectare scheme in Kent that was recommended for approval by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council planning officers, but refused by elected members.