Secretary of State refuses 49.9MW solar farm in the Green Belt

15 Apr 2024

Planning and Environment

Wayne Beglan and Emma Dring from the Cornerstone Barristers Planning and Environmental team have acted in an inquiry dismissing permission for a solar farm in Green Belt land.

The Case

The decision, made by the Minister of State for Housing, Planning, and Building Safety, Lee Rowley, on behalf of the Secretary of State, concerns an appeal by Elstree Green Ltd against the refusal of planning permission by Hertsmere Borough Council. The Appellant proposed the installation of a 49.9MW solar farm together with a substation and battery storage units on land north of Butterfly Lane, Aldenham, Hertfordshire.

The appeal was examined in a public local inquiry in October 2022. Cornerstone’s Wayne Beglan and Emma Dring represented different parties involved in the appeal.

Emma Dring appeared on behalf of Hertsmere Borough Council, supporting the Council’s decision to refuse the planning application primarily based on the impact of the development on 85 hectares of Green Belt and its impact on the significance of several heritage assets in the vicinity.

Wayne Beglan represented COG, a large combined group of objectors to the scheme. His team led the case on harm to heritage assets, and requirements of proper alternative site assessment, as well as highlighting the adverse impacts on the local landscape.

The Inspector recommended that planning permission be refused. The Secretary of State agreed with the inspector’s recommendation. He recognised that there was a “body of evidence giving an indication of broader Government policy that energy generation from solar, including onshore solar farms, is a key component of the overall Government’s business, energy, and climate change strategies to achieve the outcome of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050”, and gave substantial weight to this benefit, and also to the high level of biodiversity net gain. However, the Secretary of State also identified “harm to the Green Belt from inappropriate development, harm to openness and harm to one of the Green Belt purposes which collectively carries substantial weight, less than substantial harm to a number of designated heritage assets which carries great weight and harm to landscape character which carries significant weight”. Overall the benefits of the scheme did not clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and the other harms, therefore planning permission was refused and the appeal dismissed.

This decision provides a further demonstration of the Secretary of State’s reluctance to permit solar development in the Green Belt. Whilst permissions for such development have been granted locally and by Inspectors, the Secretary of State is yet to accept that the benefits of renewable energy and energy security are sufficient to justify this type of development in the Green Belt.

About the barristers

Wayne Beglan has particular expertise in planning, judicial review, housing and regeneration work.

Emma Dring has a busy public law practice focusing on planning, environmental, local government and climate matters. She is on the Attorney General’s B Panel of Junior Counsel to the Crown.