Two solar farms near Ludlow recommended for approval next week

Shropshire Council’s Southern Planning Committee meets next Tuesday at Shirehall to discuss two solar farms, both of which have attracted strong objections. The solar farms at Greete and Ledwyche are recommended for approval by planning officers.

As a member of the committee, I will be voting on both proposals. In line with protocols, I will not express an opinion before the meeting. This article is alert people to the imminent decision, to point up why ministers should get their facts right before they speak and to note that nearly all supporting comments for Grete solar farm result from the developer’s advertisement for support.

Prior to the meeting, committee members will tour both sites, Ledwyche at 10.30am and Greete at 11:05am. Member of the public can observe the visits, display banners etc. but they must not directly engage with committee members. Members of the public can attend the Shirehall meeting but cannot speak unless they have booked in advance (and the number of speakers is usually limited to one objector, one supporter, the parish council and the developer). The meeting will also be streamed live.

Former Defra secretary of state George Eustace seriously interfered in the planning system, which was not in his bailiwick, by incompetent statements in parliament that Grade 3b land is best and most versatile. There are five land grades, ranging from top quality Grade 1 to the very poor quality Grade 5. Best and most versatile land (BMV) is defined as land of Grades 1, 2 and 3a, not Grade 3b. This land has a degree of protection under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF paragraph 174). The NPPF supplies the following definition of BMV land:

“Best and most versatile agricultural land: Land in grades 1, 2 and 3a of the Agricultural Land Classification.”

Eustace made this mistake in a debate on food policy in the House of Commons on 13 June 2022:

“Planning guidance already sets out a clear presumption against building solar farms on the best and most versatile agricultural land, which is classed as grade 3b and above.”

Anyone can make a mistake, a slip of the tongue or memory. But Eustace repeated the error on 29 June in evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, chaired by Philip Dunne. Eustace was forced to issue an apology, which may be best described as mealy mouthed, to the Environmental Audit Committee and to the Commons Speaker.

This display of minister not knowing what he is talking about might just be disregarded as typical of the government under Boris Johnson. But it has had a significant impact on some planning applications for solar farms. Of the 106 objections to the Greete solar farm, as of 21 September, at least 25 make a specific reference to Grade 3b land being best and most versatile, many referring to George Eustace’s comments. Planning is difficult enough without politicians muddying the waters.

There is another distortion to the comments on the Greete application. Promoter Bluefield has been advertising on Facebook for supporting comments.

Facebook advert

Of the 30 supporting comments, 28 can be identified as having been in response to these adverts by their common format (including an erroneous double colon). These are typical examples:

I am writing to register my support for Brick House Solar Farm (22/02565/FUL) for the following reasons: : I do not know the background or details about this farm, but any project that will produce clean, renewable energy should be supported and welcome.

I am writing to register my support for Brick House Solar Farm (22/02565/FUL) for the following reasons: : Will there be job opportunities? I would be interested to learn more about how you intended to develop the site, your predictions on how long the project will be operational, maintaining the site, and predicted profits.

Advertising for supporting comments or objections is not against the rules.

The Southern Planning Committee will consider what weight to give to these comments given that they result from advertising by the promoter of the scheme and at least some of those submitting comments clearly had no knowledge of the scheme and had not read the planning application.

2 comments on Two solar farms near Ludlow recommended for approval next week

  1. Is there no grade 5 land that they can put solar farms on?That would allow the better grade land to be used more productively ie food production or animal use.

  2. Andy, it makes no difference what George Eustace said on grade 3b land. What would make a difference to the county would be County Councillors putting some up-to-date policies in place to protect the countryside from large scale industrial solar farms. The Council keep hiding behind the climate emergency, zero carbon Shropshire policy and 500 acres of solar per year to 2030 with no up to date policies in place on HOW to do it without trashing the countryside and farmland.
    There is very little protection under the guidance over BMV land, it says things like wishy washy things like ‘preferred not to’ build on BMV and also says it is not prohibited to build on BMV land- It would be nice to think the county council and its councillors would actually put some weight behind preferred not to and stop it but reading the planning officers report it looks like the council will just ignore the guidance as usual. what is missing is a local policy under the local plans to stop it- that’s up to the county council…………………..
    How about some county council planning policy on all new houses must have solar installed, any commercial building, warehouse or county council building must have solar installed, farmers should install solar on barns (and get grants if required) before taking agricultural land out of production…..
    So, it’s easy to point at a politician who made a mistake- it has no effect on the planning applications but now is the time for local politicians (county councillors) to step up and put polices in place to protect rural communities and agricultural land-
    What is concerning in the officer’s report is section 6.7.5 the developer spells out (and is repeated in the report to committee) the financial gains to the council – Surely financial considerations to the council are not relevant to a planning application?

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