Defra reportedly planning clampdown on solar farm development

Pictured: Mendennick solar farm, Cornwall

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.

Comments (1)

  1. Philip Aspinall says:

    Protect our golf courses at any cost. Where would the UK economy be without those very important meetings on the 9th hole and more importantly the 19th hole. CEOs and Cabinet Ministers getting cosy in the lounge bar, whilst plotting the demise of the UK Solar PV industry because they would prefer to pay farmers to set aside their land rather than put a few PV panels up. Agreed, solar panels are not as pretty as derelict, neglected land that farmers are paid to ‘rewild’ for up to 3 years in order to encourage wild life back to the country side and keep the foxes out of our towns and the rats out of Westminster. Why not install the solar panel and introduce sheep/goats to keep the grass and weeds under control. Put in a male (ram) with the female sheep to encourage sustainable farming and renewable energy. Job done.

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