Anglo Renewables has submitted an application for a solar farm east of Ludlow and south of Rocks Green (22/05424/EIA).
The solar panels at Rocks Green Farm would generate around 40 megawatts of renewable energy, enough electricity to power approximately 11,300 homes annually (Ludlow has around 5,000 households). The site would also include 12MW of battery energy storage to manage energy flows to the grid.
The generating capacity of the solar farm has been reduced from 49.95MW in the original proposals. I can’t see any explanation for this change as the area of the solar panels is the same.
The scheme is described as temporary. It will be in place for 40 years. That is not temporary in the human experience – it’s half a lifetime.
This scheme will be recommended for approval as such schemes always in Shropshire.
The scheme is in Ludford parish. The parish council’s initial response to the application reserved its position on the application but was mostly concerned with conditions and negotiating a community payment from the scheme. This is unusual as the parish council usually opposes development saying parishes such as Bromfield should take their fair share of the burden. A community payment would, in all likelihood, go to the parish council perhaps generating at least £50,000 a year for 40 years.
Soil quality matters in solar farm applications with planning rules discouraging solar farms and other developments on best and most versatile agricultural land (Grades 3A, 2 and 1). The Southern Planning Committee recently rejected an application from Locogen for a solar farm at Ledwyche on the grounds it was on best and most versatile soil. But planning officers have since argued more strongly that the quality of agricultural soil is not an impediment to approving solar farms because the use is only ‘temporary’ and it allows the land to rest from intensive agriculture. This application will be decided by the Southern Planning Committee as it is not in accordance with the local plan and if the committee is consistent, it should require the Grade 2 land to be taken out of the application.
Another issue with this application is that it will block the hypothetical link road between the Eco Park and Rocks Green. Planners insisted that the new Western Power depot to the east of the Eco Park allowed room for the link road. There is potential to connect Knights Way at the Rocks Green end to the link road. But the Rocks Green Farm solar farm proposal will block the road. That will mean that more housing will need to be accommodated elsewhere such as the land south of Ludford village which has been assessed by planners as suitable for housing.
Developments such as this are required to submit a Landscape Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA). The LVIA submitted with this application shows the solar farm from a range of locations, including many from which it could never be visible. But these fail to show the impact of the solar farm adequately, especially from the Titterstone Clee.
Those familiar with the planning system will note the application reference ends in EIA. That’s unusual and arises from a decision by Anglo Renewables to reduce potential challenges to the application
When developers are proposing a large scheme, they are required to ask council planners whether an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required under Part 2 of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) 2017.
Of the 100 applications for a Screening Opinion that have been decided in the last eight years, Shropshire planners said an EIA was only required in eight cases. Those requiring and assessment included a quarry reinstatement proposal, a housing scheme near Oswestry, a pig unit, a slurry lagoon and the Oxon Link Road in Shrewsbury (which is now part of the North West Relief Road). Applications for large poultry units have not been required to produce an EIA, despite their recognised role in increasing river pollution (for example, in the River Wye, including in Herefordshire).
Solar farms are not polluting but they do have a major impact on land use, landscape views and heritage assets and can impact drainage. However, Shropshire Council has not requested an EIA for the last ten solar farm applications that have been decided. Locally, that includes Brick House Farm in Greete, Pervin Farm in Caynham and now, Rocks Green Farm.
That’s why it is so unusual that Anglo Renewables have submitted an EIA despite council planners saying it is not needed. In their pre-application advice, planners said it was likely that an EIA would be required:
It is considered likely at this stage that the proposals would meet the requirements for an Environmental Impact Assessment. This is given the following: the area of the site; the proximity to Henley Hall listed Park; The potential visibility from the AONB and Caynham Camp; the proposal to incorporate energy storage; the presence of an existing solar farm in an adjoining area.
In providing an EIA, Anglo Renewables gold plate their application against any future challenge, should the application be approved, in the high court. And, should the application be turned down, at a planning appeal. Nevertheless, it is surprising that the planning officers’ decision not to require an EIA differs substantially from the pre-application advice.