In one of the first Solar Farm appeal decisions since the issue of the Planning Practice Guidance on 6 March 2014, an Inspector has rejected an appeal by Hive Energy Ltd for a 38 hectare solar park on agricultural land at Tattingstone, Babergh District, Suffolk. This was in part on landscape and visual impact grounds and in part because the Appellant's attempt to justify the use of a greenfield agricultural site as necessary was "far from robust and completely inadequate" and the Appellant's attempt to justify the use of BMV land as the poorer quality land available was "wholly inadequate".
The Inspector (Elizabeth Ord) highlighted that there had been a series of Ministerial statements on the importance of locating large scale solar parks only on suitable sites. She found that there was now a clear sequential test in national policy and that "Whilst the plan area may in some circumstances be an appropriate search area, there is no policy guidance which advocates restricting searches to within a local authority's administrative area." She also gave short shrift to the Appellant's argument that the sequential test in para 112 of the NPPF and para ID5-013 of the PPG was unduly onerous, requiring site surveys and auger borings on an open ended basis, saying "Whilst the sequential test must be proportionate, no good reasons have been advanced to show why it could not involve a robust desk based assessment supported by surveys of selected sites within a realistic area of search".
In the context of the facts of the case the Inspector considered that the Appellant should have considered the potential suitability of existing buildings and PDL sites both within Babergh District and in the nearby large urban area of Ipswich and the potential availability of Grade 4 agricultural land in nearby Suffolk Coastal District.
Appellants promoting large scale solar farms on agricultural land will therefore need to do more work to rigorously justify their site search exercises and Local Planning Authorities should subject any such assessments to robust and critical scrutiny.
Michael Bedford acted for Babergh District Council. David Hardy of Eversheds acted for the Appellant and Tom Hill QC acted for the Rule 6 parties.
Please click here to see the decision letter dated 2 June 2014.