Sleaford MP welcomes government stance on major solar farm projects in Lincolnshire

MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham Dr Caroline Johnson.MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham Dr Caroline Johnson.
MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham Dr Caroline Johnson.
The MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham has welcomed the Government’s fresh stance on balancing energy security with food security in relation to large scale solar farms.

Dr Caroline Johnson has been lobbying ministers to redress the balance after concerns that Lincolnshire was being targeted by developers of large-scale solar and renewable projects at the cost of valuable food producing farmland.

Claire Coutinho, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero made a statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday (May 15) outlining the government’s updated policy on solar power projects and protecting the country’s food security and best and most versatile (BMV) land.

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Dr Johnson said the policy is to be applied to re-establish balance and ensure that energy security must not come at the expense of food security. She commented: “This is very important news for those affected by the four large-scale applications in the Sleaford and North Hykeham constituency.

“Much of what constituents told me in my recent survey and the points I have been raising about this issue in Parliament have been taken on board. This includes: the importance of our food security, the avoidance of cumulative impact (and the particular importance of this for Lincolnshire where several proposals have come forward in the same locality), strong presumption against BMV land, ensuring all soil surveys are by certified surveyors, supporting solar on rooftops and brownfield sites.”

The four major projects in North Kesteven are Beacon Fen, Springwell, Heckington Fen and Fosse Green Energy.

Dr Johnson said: “I am pleased that the Government, who will decide these applications, has been clear they will only allow projects to use BMV land where absolutely necessary and will consider cumulative impact too. I am very hopeful that these protections confirmed will prevent the development of giant solar plants across our beautiful part of the world.

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“In the longer term, I would like to see legislation develop further, however, I recognise that requires a lengthy consultation and then a long process through Parliament. I will keep working in this regard.”

in her statement to the Commons, Ms Coutinho said food security is “an essential part of national security”, adding: “This Government is fully committed to delivering robust UK food security and recognises its paramount importance to our national security. This is reflected in our commitment to maintain the current level of food we produce domestically. Heightened geopolitical risk has brought this into sharper focus and we think it is more important than ever that our best agricultural land is protected and our food production prioritised.

“Similarly, we have seen our energy security threatened following Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine with the government spending over £40bn to pay up to a half of people’s energy bills. We are combatting this by racing ahead with deployment of renewable energy.

"Solar power is a key part of the Government’s strategy for energy security, net zero and clean growth.”

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But she went on: “Government recognises that, in some instances, solar projects can affect local environments which may lead to unacceptable impacts for some local communities. The planning system is designed to balance these considerations against the need to deliver a secure, clean, green energy system for the future.

“The new National Policy Statement that we published in January makes clear that applicants should, where possible, utilise suitable previously developed land, brownfield land, contaminated land and industrial land. Where the proposed use of any agricultural land has been shown to be necessary, poorer quality land should be preferred to higher quality land avoiding the use of Best and Most Versatile agricultural land where possible.”

The minister said: “We are concerned that as large solar developments proceed at pace, more of our Best and Most Versatile (BMV) land could be used for solar PV instead of food production.

“The starting position for solar PV developers in taking forward Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects is that applicants should seek to minimise impacts on the best and most versatile agricultural land (defined as land in grades 1, 2 and 3a of the Agricultural Land Classification) and preferably use land in areas of poorer quality.

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“The National Policy Statement can also be a material consideration in determining applications under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and is broadly consistent with the approach to agricultural land in the National Planning Policy.

“This means that due weight needs to be given to the proposed use of Best and Most Versatile land when considering whether planning consent should be granted for solar developments. For all applicants the highest quality agricultural land is least appropriate for solar development and as the land grade increases, there is a greater onus on developers to show that the use of higher quality land is necessary. Applicants for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects should avoid the use of Best and Most Versatile agricultural land where possible.”

She said for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, including those already in the system, the National Policy Statement and the new policy guidance should be relevant considerations in the decision making process.

While the total area of agricultural land used for solar is still very small, she said the government is increasingly seeing geographical clustering of proposed solar developments in some rural areas, such as in Lincolnshire.

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"When considering whether planning consent should be granted for solar development it is important to consider not just the impacts of individual proposals, but also whether there are cumulative impacts where several proposals come forward in the same locality.

“In parallel, my Department will be expanding the Renewable Energy Planning Database to include additional information on the types of agricultural land used by existing solar projects and those in the planning pipeline. This will enable us to carefully monitor the use of land by renewable projects in all regions of the UK.”

She said the Government has heard concerns about the perceived inaccuracy and unfairness of soil surveys undertaken as part of the planning process for solar development. The Government will address this by supporting independent certification to ensure Agricultural Land Classification Soil Surveys are of a high standard and data is objective and consistent in the way it is recorded and presented.

Ms Coutinho added that increasing the deployment of rooftop solar remains a priority for Government.

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This year, UK Government launched a new package of measures to support British farming. Under the second round of the Improving Farm Productivity grant, between £15-25 million was made available for the installation of rooftop solar and other equipment to help farms reduce fossil fuel use, improve their energy resilience, and accelerate progress towards net zero.

“We also unlocked a key barrier for large-scale commercial rooftop solar, including on farm buildings, through changes to permitted development rights.

"Concurrently, we introduced a new PDR allowing for the installation of solar canopies in non-domestic car parks,” she said.

They will shortly be delivering the Future Homes Standard proposing support for rooftop solar panels for new homes and non-domestic buildings. Additionally, she said social housing and the public sector both offer excellent opportunities to fit solar on homes and reduce bills. “As such, we plan to explore further how to ensure that social landlords can provide solar to their tenants, and work across government to help schools, colleges, hospitals, and other buildings to supply themselves with solar power.”

Further information on these initiatives will be set out in the upcoming joint government/industry Solar Roadmap.

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