In his decision to reject a planning application for a solar farm at Hacheston, Suffolk, Mr Pickles ruled that the scheme would have a “major … adverse impact on the landscape”. He also ruled that “the loss of a substantial area of productive agricultural land for at least 25 years is another negative factor”.
The report, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, concluded: “The Secretary of State considers that the disadvantages significantly outweigh the benefits of the scheme … The proposed solar park cannot be made acceptable.” The solar farm would have been one of the largest in the country, covering 127 acres, the equivalent of about 75 football pitches, with 100,000 solar panels.
In rejecting the scheme, Mr Pickles is signalling to developers that future applications are also likely to fail. The second scheme at Tattingstone about 20 miles from Hacheston was rejected by a planning inspector last week. The campaign had been spearheaded by Rhys Jones, who lives nearby. The project would have led to 43,000 solar panels erected in fields covering 100 acres.
Rhys Jones told The Telegraph that the area had “special landscape value”. “ This is not a victory for my backyard, it is a victory for all our backyards,” he said.
He added: “We need renewables but we need them to be sited with forethought and care and not random opportunism. There are many suitable places for solar farms but they do not include beautiful countryside and good arable land.”
The HM Planning Inspectorate report supported campaigners’ arguments that the scheme should not be built on farmland. The report concluded that the solar farm “would cause substantial harm to a valued landscape … and would result in the loss of arable land for 25 years”.
There are 143 solar farms seeking planning permission; many of those are now at risk.
Dr John Constable, director of Renewable Energy Foundation, a think tank which has been a long-term critic of subsidies to the renewables industries, said the Government had simply run out of money to support renewable energy schemes. Rejecting projects in the planning system was one way to keep costs down.
Dr Constable said: “While local objectors will, quite rightly, see the recent trend towards refusals of planning consent as victories for local environmental protection, a major contributing element is the fact that the UK government, in common with other EU states, is rapidly losing confidence in the cost-effectiveness of renewables within their climate policy. These technologies are just too expensive to form a major component of any system.”
Hive Energy, the green energy company behind the Suffolk projects, said it was disappointed to have both solar farms rejected.
Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association, said: “These planning decisions have killed off large scale solar farms. Pickles is picking on the solar industry.”