All solar farm applicants stress that the land use is temporary and the land will be improved through fallow use during the forty years. That is questioned in a submission by Shropshire Council to the planning appeal on the Ledwyche solar farm, on the east side of Squirrel Lane.

In a significant clarification of planning officers’ position on whether solar farms are temporary, they say that none have yet been decommissioned and it is not known if the land can be fully restored. They also say that 40 years is a long time to take land out of production. Ledwyche Solar Farm is on good quality agricultural land and officers say that the Southern Planning Committee was entitled to take this into account when it rejected the application.

Harris Lamb Property has provided further details of the proposal from Anglo Renewables for a 50 MW, 49 hectare solar farm between the Eco Park and the A4117 at Rocks Green Farm. This application has yet to come before the Southern Planning Committee. The new information says the installation will lead to substantial gains in overall biodiversity and hedgerow biodiversity. It also reveals that discussions are underway for with Ludford Parish Council about a community fund which could amount  to £25,000 annually, index linked for 40 years.

Ledwyche Solar Farm (22/02151/FUL)

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The application for a 12MW solar farm was rejected by the Southern Planning Committee because 95% of the development would be on best and most versatile agricultural land, which has a degree of protection under planning rules.

Locogen, the company behind the solar farm, say agricultural production might continue as sheep could graze between the solar arrays. The council officers’ response to the planning appeal is this would not mitigate for the loss of protected best and most versatile arable land over a 40-year period.

Logogen also suggests there would be no permanent loss of best and most versatile land as the site would be capable of reinstatement at the end of its operational lifespan, therefore protection under the National Planning Policy Framework does not apply. Officers say 40 years is a significant timespan “which could be considered tantamount to a permanent loss of best and most versatile land when viewed within the timescales of conventional farm management.” They said Locogen has not considered the potential effects of a 40-year loss of arable production on viability of farming within the unit. It has not put forward a cross-subsidy mechanism for other agricultural activity on the farm.

Officers question whether the land would be capable of being reinstated to an equivalent quality after 40 years, particularly if there is soil compaction during the construction phase or as a result of sheep grazing. They say there is no precedent to by which to judge this as no UK solar sites have yet been subject to restoration and agricultural reversion.

In their pre-application planning advice, officers said Locogen must address the loss of best and most versatile land. As the company had not done so, the committee was entitled to reject the application.

This advice clarifies the council’s position. Previously it had argued a weaker position in committee, during the Greete application for example, where the committee was told that the presence of best and most versatile land was not an impediment to solar farm development and that all the country’s solar farms together does not add up to the area of land covered by golf courses. (Anyway, golf courses are rarely on good quality land).

Rocks Green Farm Solar Farm (22/05424/EIA)

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The site has selected because of the available grid connection to the substation on Squirrel Lane. Much of the land in the search area for a site was Grade 2 best and most versatile soil, high grade arable land. Most of the selected site is lower quality Grade 3b soil (92.6%), with the remainder best and most versatile Grade 2. “Overall farm productivity will be little changed.”

Harris Lamb cites decarbonisation and the need to more to a low carbon economy to tackle climate change as a key benefit of the solar farm, along with UK energy security.

The site will provide significant ecological benefits by removing intense cattle grazing and four hectares of buffer planting to screen the site. It will result in a 159% biodiversity net gain in habitat and 50% biodiversity net gain in hedgerows. Bat boxes will be installed and a search for deer on the site, including in Rock Covert, will be made before the deer proof enclosure is completed. “It is considered that the absence of deer could increase the ecological value of the site.”

Geophysical survey is being undertaken on the site to determine the location of any archaeological remains. Harris Lamb considered the planned buffer between the solar farm and the list Henley Hall and gardens adequate.

Anglo Renewables is currently discussing a financial payment to Ludford Parish Council based on the MW generated. This will have no influence on whether the application will be approved or not. The Association of Local Councils (SALC) and Shropshire Council have produced a tariff for solar farms. That suggests community benefits should be £500 per installed megawatt index linked over 40 years, except where that would undermine the viability of the solar farm. Ludford Parish Council could receive £25,000 index linked for 40 years.

Anglo Renewables is planning to install information boards “to allow understanding of the development” at agreed locations. It will explore opportunities for educational visits.

According to Harris Lamb the solar farm would create around 350 full time equivalent (FTE) jobs directly or indirectly. I don’t accept this. The claim is based on a 10 year old study of solar farm employment generation. The solar industry, like most others, has improved its efficiency over the last decade. In the USA, for example, the costs of utility scale solar power generation have fallen by more than 80% over the last decade. Part of that reduction will be in employment costs. One recent study, again in the USA, suggests that 2.1 FTE jobs per MW are created through utility scale solar farms, much lower than the 7.0 FTE used by Harris Lamb.

The solar farm would generate £104,000 in business rates annually, half of which will go to Shropshire Council and the rest to the government.

Harris Lamb have also updated the landscape visual impact. This still classifies the cumulative impact of solar farms off Squirrel Lane as “minor”.  

6 thought on “Solar farms: are they temporary and can they be on the best soils?”
  1. This does sound like people making comment with adequate information or understanding. It is quite possible to install solar panels in a field and encourage the natural flora and fauna to return. The term “good quality agricultural land” is only in the contest of a petrochemical world where fertilisers and heavy machinery make if “good”. We do need to grow food and withing our own land boundaries. However solar panels don’t actually stop use of the land beneath it, it will depend on the structures that support the panels. It would be quite easy to create structures that could support a range of the legume family, It would also be possible to grew soft fruit bushes. Equally we need to return land to natural self sustainable management. Panels can be moved, structures adapted, spaces left/filled/opened. This could mean that sustainable permadynamic agriculture ( could be happening under and around the panels, during and beyond these 40 years. It does mean that some consideration of the future use of the land needs to be designed in. e.g. How high is the panel support structure, how dense are the panels, what base crops would be introduced to sustain a permadynamic model. Whatever happens it is no use returning the land to land for current agricultural needs, those days will be gone

  2. Basically NO arable land that can grow food should be put out of action.Surely more unproductive land could be found for solar farms.Can some sort of incentive be provided for the solar companies to build on poor land.

  3. I am sure the local area looks forward to the 280 jobs created by Rock Green, 84 by Ledwyche solar and 280 by Grete to be shortly followed by the 161 to be created by Previn/Caynham- of course this is complete rubbish and shoudl not be taken seriously as a justification for building solar farms around Ludlow- no local jobs would be created and if any jobs are created its likely to be in China making the panels. The crews installing will have little local content and move from job to job, there is only so much washing of panels, counting of bird and bat boxes and rounding up sheep you can do in a year certainly not 804 FTE’s worth anyway

  4. I think Len is on the right track when he talks about alternative forms of agriculture that will come to the fore in the next 30 years. We have to think properly about how we use the land we have for all our needs, not just food, rather than just ‘knee-jerk’ our way into positions about land use that are rapidly becoming obsolete.

    Climate change means that existing systems of agriculture will *have* to change anyway, so we need to seize this opportunity.

    On the point of ‘never’ using ‘good quality land’, I would like to see evidence that there is a shortage of such land for food production in the UK. I do not hear food producers or government saying ‘ I could grow more food and sell it at a price that the public could afford if I had more land’, so I don’t think that the imapct of solar farms is significant here.

    I suspect the use of land for growing crops is far more governed by subsidy, involvement of supermarkets in all aspects of production, consumer habits and exposure to alternative cusine, mainly by advertising. Do we really want to live in a UK where we only eat what is grown within our island? – if so, we had better decide now and plan accordingly. It would mean, for instance, no rice – a staple food for many groups. The last time this was tried was in WW2 and even then a) we had to rely on importation at high risk to life and limb for many food stuffs and b) there were considerable general shortages.

  5. Out of interest I googled Eden Renewables, who said the following about their solar farms:

    “Our solar farms include the following ecological measures:

    The area beneath and around the solar panels is seeded with local, native wildflower and wild grasses to create a haven for wildlife, which develops naturally over time. The land is managed as a wildflower meadow in spring and summer, then grazed by sheep in autumn and winter.

    The wide grass margins at the edge of the site are managed to produce tussocky grassland which is ideal for ground nesting birds, small mammals, reptiles and bumblebees.

    Ponds or clay-lined scrapes may be created to provide habitat for aquatic invertebrates.

    Hibernacula provide refuges for amphibians and reptiles to hibernate over winter.

    Bird and bat boxes around the perimeter of the site.

    Gaps are left at intervals along the fenceline to provide access for foraging hedgehogs and badgers.

    Sites for beehives are identified for both solitary and honey bees. If you are interested in keeping beehives at one of our sites please get in contact.”

    If we have to have solar farms on good agricultural land, then let’s at least try and incorporate best practice into their design.

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