Solar Power Planning - Updated 21-5-24

24 April 2024

University Scheme highlights issues

The University have applied for a solar farm to be situated to the west of the Research Park. The proposed farm covers three fields which are in the Greenbelt and could also be affected by an extension to the National Landscape area which is still under determination.

The proposal has interesting implications for planning applications in the countryside in the borough.

Summary of Planning 

The House of Commons Library has produced a useful summary report Planning for Solar Farms (See link at foot of page) that summarises the desire of the government to encourage more solar farms to support Green Energy and Energy Security.

The report also outlines the planning policy applied to Solar Farms, these vary for small-farms (up to 50MW) and large-farms (over 50MW).  Large farms are treated as a National Infrastructure asset, whilst small-farms are under normal Local Planning Authority Rules.

The National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) is clear that renewable energy projects, including solar farms, are not “appropriate” development for green belt land except in “very special circumstances”:

“When located in the Green Belt, elements of many renewable energy projects will comprise inappropriate development. In such cases developers will need to demonstrate very special circumstances if projects are to proceed. Such very special circumstances may include the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy from renewable sources. (para156 NPPF)”

It is not that simple

The application from the University (See Link Below) in its Design and Access statement highlights cases of building Solar Farms greenbelt land, planning inspectors appear to be swayed by the argument that Solar Farms are:

  1. Temporary with a life of circa 30 years
  2. Don’t change the designation of land as Greenbelt
  3. Are not objectional if properly landscaped

The Design and Access statement provides several examples.  As an example on Page78:

One such recent appeal decision granted planning permission for a 22MW solar farm on land at Telford.  The Inspector in recognised the following:

”The PPG (Planning Policy Guidance) indicates that when assessing the impact of a development on the openness of the Green Belt, the duration of the development and its remediability, and the degree of activity it would be likely to generate, are matters to take into consideration. The proposal would occupy the site for 40 years which although a significant period of time is not permanent. At the end of this period the site could be restored to agricultural land. In addition, apart from during the construction phase and during de-commissioning, the development would generate minimal activity.”

The Inspector further comments:

“It is not disputed that the proposal would represent development in the countryside…The appeal scheme would introduce man-made structures into the fields and would change their character. Nonetheless, the solar arrays would be located within the existing field pattern and the scheme would retain and enhance the existing field boundaries which would result in minimal visibility of the scheme from outside the site. Furthermore, the solar arrays would be low-lying, open sided features, that would be temporary in nature, limiting the overall effect on the countryside.”

In addition, solar farms can be built in a way that allows for grazing (normally sheep) to continue on the land.  The university are also arguing that by resting the land from intensive agriculture it will improve the land.

Setting a precedent

Solar Farms are a very efficient method of generating electricity, and are likly to become more efficient with changes in the technolgy.  Like most sources of sustainable energy they are not cost free having environment impacts, potentially taking over valuable agricultural land etc. The consideration of the application promoted by the university will set a precedent for other solar farms in the borough.

Society Has Objected

After consideration the society has lodged a letter of objection with particular regard to changes to the Surrey Hills Natural Landscape (AONB) which are under determination at present. See Letter Below.


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