Defra reportedly planning clampdown on solar farm development
Under Liz Truss’s new Government, land-use definition frameworks are set to be changed to restrict the development of new solar farms, it is being reported.
The Guardian published a report this morning stating that it has seen evidence of the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) planning to effectively ban new solar projects on the vast majority of England’s farms.
The newspaper’s environment reporter, Helena Horton, has been told by Whitehall sources that the Department is drawing up plans to widen the remit for what qualifies as “best and most versatile land” (BMV). BMV land is earmarked for agriculture and development is restricted.
The Guardian estimates that the expansion of the BMV categorisation would effectively ban solar development from almost 60% of agricultural land in England, or around 41% of England’s total land area.
edie contacted Defra for a comment on the reports. The Department is understood to be drawing up plans for reforming forthcoming, post-Brexit farmer subsidy schemes and to be working with other departments to streamline planning processes.
A Defra spokesperson could neither confirm nor deny the Guardian’s reports. They told edie:“The environment, farming and economic growth go hand-in-hand, and as stated in the Growth Plan, we are committed to increasing our long-term energy security and strengthening the UK’s food security. That’s why we will be looking at the frameworks for regulation, innovation and investment that impact farmers and land managers to make sure that our policies are best placed to boost food production, increase resilience, drive growth and protect the environment.”
They added that the Department “has been looking at all options to support farming and economic growth while protecting nature and delivering on net zero.”
The solar state of play
During her leadership campaign, Truss repeatedly was very vocal in opposing the expansion of the UK’s solar generation capacity. She said she was concerned about solar farms “filling” and “dominating” land, posing them as a threat to food security. She also called them “paraphernalia” and stated that offshore wind and nuclear would have a far greater role to play in the UK’s transition to net-zero.
The UK’s Energy Security Strategy, published in April under Boris Johnson, contained no new targets for expanding the UK’s solar stock – but it did increase targets for expanding offshore wind, nuclear and low-carbon hydrogen. On solar, the main inclusion was a promise to consult with local communities on measures to discount their electricity bills for agreeing to local development. The Energy Security Bill, which will enshrine several of the key changes needed to deliver the Strategy’s ambitions, is understood to be on pause for review under the Truss administration.
Should Defra wish to implement the changes to BMV categorisation that are being reported, it will need to gain agreement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Solar industry response
As one would expect, Solar Energy UK, the trade body representing the sector, says it “completely opposes” Defra’s reported plans.
The organisation said that claims that solar farms would threaten the UK’s food security are “baseless”, given that solar and agricultural production can occur on the same land and can cut energy costs for farmers.
“Even if five times as many solar farms were built, they would occupy less than 0.3% of UK land – less than half the amount occupied by golf courses,” the body said in a statement.
Other organisations sharing Solar Energy UK’s concerns about the Government’s approach include the Aldersgate Group, Ashden, Possible and the Wildlife Trusts.