Ministers hope to ban solar projects from most English farms

The new environment secretary, Ranil Jayawardena, is understood to oppose solar panels being placed on agricultural land, arguing that it impedes growth and boosting food production. To this end, he is looking to redefine the categories of “best and most versatile” land (BMV).

Land is graded from 1 to 5, and currently BMV includes grades 1 to 3a. Currently, most solar farms are built on and planned for 3b land. Planning guidance says that development on BMV land should be avoided. By including the middling-to-low category 3b in the BMV band would ban solar from about 41% of the land area of England, or about 58% of agricultural land. Much of grade 4 and 5 land is in upland areas that are unsuitable for solar developments.

Chris Hewett, chief executive of the trade association Solar Energy UK, said: “The UK solar sector is alarmed by attempts to put major planning rules in the way of cheap, homegrown energy. Solar power is the answer to so many needs and policy demands: it will cut energy bills, deliver energy security, boost growth and help rural economies. Ranil Jayawardena’s opposition to solar farms must surely make him part of the anti-growth coalition.” 

Meanwhile, Dustin Benton, policy director at the thinktank Green Alliance, said: “The UK desperately needs to expand renewables so we don’t have to pay the extortionate cost of gas. Solar is one of the fastest energy sources to be deployed, so we should move quickly to build more in light of the gas crisis.” 

Adapted from an article in The Guardian