In response to a rising number of solar farm developments, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has issued a Policy Guidance Note to its members outlining the group’s position on solar developments.

The CPRE states that solar in the UK “has an important role to play in meeting future energy need” but the group wants to see deployment of the technology focused on the “largely untapped” commercial rooftop market.

The group echoes the government’s views outlined in the Solar Strategy, which aims to boost rooftop solar deployment. CPRE supports the development of roof-mounted solar because it provides onsite generation which reduces transmission and distribution losses. CPRE adds that the opportunity for building-mounted solar will only grow as “very careful siting and sensitive design is already making solar PV acceptable on over the most valued buildings”.

The group suggests that local authorities could support the deployment of solar “through planning conditions to mandate PV on new build and major refurbishments were practical”.

In addition, CPRE is calling on the government to work harder to unblock the rollout of building-mounted solar. For example, the group suggests that the government should give landlords more incentives to install solar; surveyors should be given updated training in order to properly reflect solar’s value; and permitted development rules should ensure that opportunities are not unnecessarily constrained.

Responding to the policy guidance note, Leonie Greene, head of external affairs at the Solar Trade Association, said: “There are several reasons why the big roof market is failing to take off significantly in the UK, chief among them being problems with the government’s support scheme. This needs to be fixed urgently, along with a wider range of non-financial barriers.”

The development of solar farms on rural land remains a contentious issue for the CPRE, with many local branches lobbying against a number of schemes across the UK over the last few years. However, the CPRE recognises that solar farms “can bring benefits” and are acceptable of they are “located where they do not harm the natural beauty and productivity of the countryside”.

Specifically, CPRE says solar farms are acceptable if developers:

  • Avoid harm to landscape character and quality, when viewed from publicly accessible vantage points
  • Avoid cumulative impacts on landscape character and quality, when viewed from publically accessible vantage points
  • Avoid harm to valued and special areas, especially those that are nationally and internationally protected
  • Avoid harm to views from publically accessible land and the surroundings of settlements
  • Avoid the best and most versatile land – grades 1,2 and 3a
  • Avoid adverse effects on biodiversity and deliver positive biodiversity gains

Commenting on the CPRE’s guidance for ‘acceptable’ solar farms, Greene commented: “Much of the CPRE’s new guidance complements the work that the solar industry has done to develop industry-wide standards for good quality solar farms that where possible avoid high-grade agricultural land.”

Greene concluded: “Solar makes no noise or waste, can be screened from view, has no moving parts and emits no carbon. It’s not hard to see why, from the public polling we have seen, solar farms are the most popular local energy development. Solar fixings take up only about 5% of the land area leaving huge room for wildlife and wildflower habitats and continued agricultural production.

“Done sensitively, solar farms can be a friend to the countryside.”