On the 22nd May 2014 the Secretary of State dismissed an appeal against the refusal of planning permission by Suffolk Coastal District Council for a 25 MW capacity solar farm on 50 hectares of agricultural land in Suffolk. The site lies within a locally designated Special Landscape Area and within the settings of three listed buildings, one of which is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Permission had been refused by the local authority for reasons relating to landscape and heritage impact against the recommendation of its officers.
Some interesting features of the decision include
1) The impact on each of the heritage assets was characterised as less than substantial but "the rural settings of Parham Old Hall would be significantly harmed. [The Secretary of State] agrees that the harm to the setting of Parham Old Hall would conflict with the heritage protection objectives of the Framework."
2) Although it frequently happens that the effectiveness of mitigation is in dispute, in this case the very deliverability of a landscaping scheme proposed as mitigation was in dispute, and this was – unsurprisingly, given the major/moderate adverse impact on the landscape – "a critical consideration because of the site's location in an area of countryside that is of special quality". Further, the Appellant did not succeed in showing that the local landscape designation should be given reduced weight on account of its age or otherwise.
3) The Secretary of State also found the 25 years' loss of agricultural land (there were no definitive plans for agricultural use alongside the development) "counts against the proposal".
4) In carrying out the balance of harm against benefit (and describing the production of electricity as "a very significant factor in favour" of the grant of permission), the Secretary of State did not agree with the Inspector that the reversibility of the development should be given significant weight. Rather it "should not be an influential factor" in the appeal. The point arose in relation to the impact on the setting of heritage assets but the Secretary of State makes it in general terms.
Please click here to see the decision letter.
Harriet Townsend of Cornerstone Barristers represented Suffolk Coastal District Council at the Inquiry.