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Solar Arrays (Impact on Landscape)

Volume 585: debated on Monday 8 September 2014

16. What his policy is on whether planning inspectors at appeal or local authority planning committees should determine what constitutes cumulative impact on the landscape from large-scale solar arrays. (905215)

I know from recent correspondence of my hon. Friend’s concerns about large-scale solar arrays. Although I cannot comment on particular cases, I can assure you that the same expectations on deciding planning applications apply to inspectors and local councils.

Order. May I invite the Minister to remember the merits of the third person, of which I am sure he is very conscious?

I thank the Minister for his reply. He will know that local residents and South Hams district councillors were very disappointed that he did not haul in the application for another 58 acres of solar arrays near Diptford. That is the fourth large-scale development within a three-mile radius of a tiny community in my constituency. He will also know that district councillors are under great pressure to accept such applications, because when they turn them down, as they did in Kingsbridge recently, the applications are overturned on appeal, with punitive costs. Will the Minister reassure me, and meet me to discuss how the situation can be resolved?

I am more than willing to meet my hon. Friend. I cannot comment on individual cases, but I should emphasise that the solution to giving confidence to a local council about the decisions it makes, and to the community, is to have a secure local plan, under which people clearly determine what they want to be built in their area. At the moment, the plan that covers the area where the hon. Lady works and lives is not appropriate and does not give that security.

Peterborough city council is misguidedly pursuing a solar energy park to the east of the city, around the villages of Thorney and Newborough, which will involve 500,000 glass panels on an area the size of 700 football pitches. Do we need to consider the use of more robust language in the strategic planning framework to ensure that such proposals to build on prime agricultural land are not pursued in future?

There is clear guidance on building on agricultural land and a preference to build on brownfield. I cannot comment on the case that my hon. Friend raises, but I am sure that his robust position will be heard by the local council.

Wiltshire council recently permitted a well-sited solar project—it was behind an industrial estate, next to a sewage works on the outskirts of Trowbridge—yet Broughton Gifford, a small village, has had a number of applications for several different arrays in its vicinity, despite the presence of National Trust buildings and English Heritage listed buildings. Is the Minister confident that the protections that we give our heritage assets are appropriately recognised in respect of such proposals?

As I have said in answer to previous questions, there is clear guidance on what is appropriate and inappropriate. It is absolutely appropriate for individual local authorities to get a secure local plan that determines the shape and use of renewable energy sources.