Following an appeal made by JBM Solar Projects 6 Limited (APP/B3030/W/21/3279533), Inspector Baird has granted permission for a 49.9 MW solar farm on a site of approximately 100ha north of Halloughton, Nottinghamshire in the district of Newark & Sherwood.  The scheme will provide for a reduction of approx. 20,690t of CO2 and meet the energy needs of at least 12,000 homes.

The scheme was refused for reasons concerning the historic environmental, as well as landscape and visual impacts, and was amended following determination. Those amendments were consulted on, and an Environmental Statement was produced following a direction by the Secretary of State during the lifetime of the appeal. That was an unusual sequence of events given that a negative screening decision was issued by the Council at application stage.

In a characteristically well-written and robust decision, the Inspector recognised that one “cannot make an omelette without breaking a few eggs”[1]. The Inspector was talking about the landscape effects in the first year of the scheme and making the straightforward point that the worst effects would be experienced for a limited time, and thus only limited weight could be attached to them; those effects would diminish over time and were in any event, highly localised.

That common-sense approach permeates the decision through the following findings which may be of wider relevance to other schemes:

  • It is inevitable that a solar farm of this scale in the countryside would have some adverse landscape character and visual impact, but in respect of this type of development, national and development plan policy adopts a positive approach indicating that development will be approved where the harm would be outweighed by the benefits of a scheme. (DL11)
  • Apart from the proposed permanent electricity substation, the solar panels and associated infrastructure, would, “sit lightly on the affected fields, with no material change to topography” (DL18).
  • Additional planting would be a Major and Significant Beneficial Effect given its strategic locations (DL19).
  • The Inspector found LTSH at the lower end of the spectrum to a number of listed buildings including a Grade 2* listed Farmhouse, but found that “the imperative to tackle climate change, as recognised in legislation and energy policy, and the very significant benefits of the scheme clearly and decisively outweigh the temporary and less than substantial harm to the HAs involved” (DL77).
  • The provision of renewable energy was unsurprisingly given “significant weight” in the planning balance, as too was the biodiversity net gain (at least 73%).

There is a need to halt the overall decline in biodiversity both through addressing the threat of climate change and enhancing the natural environment. The potential for biodiversity net gain as part of solar schemes is staggering in absolute terms, and relative to other sorts of development. Applicants and Appellants should seek to maximise this element of their schemes as far as possible. As set out above, the BNG in this instance was 73% on the Council’s case (the Appellant’s calculation was 92%) following a recalculation in BNG Metric 3. Such enormous benefits should not be underplayed given the Government’s commitment to tackling threats to, and loss of biodiversity.

Thea Osmund-Smith acted for the Appellant in the appeal

Pegasus Planning project managed and gave evidence in support of the proposals at the appeal

[1] Attributed to François Athenase de Charette de la Contrie Breton soldier and politician 1863 to 1796, see DL22