Planning inspectorate clarifies the applicable test for deciding solar site location

Published on 6th Oct 2015

Two recent permissions for solar farms confirm that there is no policy requirement for a sequential test to be applied to the location of the development. The applicant must rather provide ‘most compelling evidence’ that their chosen location is most suitable.

The applications concerned one solar farm covering 14 hectares in Somerset, and one covering 66 hectares in Norfolk.

The Norfolk site fell within Agricultural Land Classification (“ALC”) 2, well within the category of ‘best and most versatile agricultural land’, according to the inspector. The appellant contested that a sequential test ought to have been carried out to determine whether the solar farm could be built on brown field land (that is, non-agricultural) or agricultural land that was less productive than the planned site. The inspector noted, however, that there was no policy requirement for a sequential test to be applied. He further noted that such an exercise may not be particularly useful in solar farm applications since it would not take into account the availability of grid connections to the project. Rather he stated that what must be shown is that there is ‘most compelling evidence’ as to why a certain site is most suitable.
The Somerset solar farm was due to be built on lower quality land than the site in Norfolk, this time comprising of land graded 3b and 4 in the ALC. Even so, the Council argued that a sequential test ought to have been applied to determine whether brownfield or other, less productive land was available. Again, the inspector held that there was no policy requirement to carry out a sequential test. The applicant rather had to provide ‘most compelling evidence’ that the chosen site was suitable.

While these decisions are welcome, renewable energy developers still face the significant constraints of recent subsidy cuts and limited grid capacity. The latter in particular is a factor which was taken into account in the “most compelling evidence” test in the above decisions, and is therefore a significant factor developers should keep in mind when locating a site.

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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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