The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has issued new planning guidance for local authorities designed to give communities greater say over the siting of solar farms.

The Planning practice guidance for renewable and low carbon energy document released today cancels the previous Planning for renewable energy: a companion guide to PPS22.

The document has been published in response to continued pressure from Conservative backbenchers over the development of onshore wind and, more recently, solar farms. The document is clear that despite the need for green energy developments, “this does not mean that the need for renewable energy automatically overrides environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities”. 

The guidance encourages local authorities to be mindful of the cumulative impact of solar farms developments on landscape and local amenity. The document also stresses the importance of topography to solar farm applications as the impact of a development can be significant for both flat and hilly areas.

Reacting to the news, STA chief executive Paul Barwell said: “The more guidance the solar industry has, the easier it will be for us to deploy solar power in a way which is sensitive to the needs and concerns of local communities, so we welcome this new guidance. Many of the specific factors, such as encouraging effective use of previously developed land and increasing biodiversity, are absolutely in line with our own industry commitments.

“However, it is worrying that Government did not consult industry on these new policy measures. The negative rhetoric of today’s Ministerial statements ignores the benefits of renewables, and presents these measures as simply a means of restricting their growth. Only ten days earlier the same department presented guidance for oil and gas exploration as measures to ‘help support the shale gas industry’. The downplaying of the environmental threat posed by climate change – one of the main reasons to support solar power – is also concerning.”

Below are the planning considerations listed in the new guidance that relate specifically to solar PV:       

The deployment of large-scale solar farms can have a negative impact on the rural environment, particularly in very undulating landscapes. However, the visual impact of a well-planned and well-screened solar farm can be properly addressed within the landscape if planned sensitively.

Particular factors a local planning authority will need to consider include:

• Encouraging the effective use of previously developed land, and if a proposal does involve greenfield land, that it allows for continued agricultural use and/or encourages biodiversity improvements around arrays

• That solar farms are normally temporary structures and planning conditions can be used to ensure that the installations are removed when no longer in use and the land is restored to its previous use

• The effect on landscape of glint and glare (see guidance on landscape assessment at paragraphs 39-40) and on neighbouring uses and aircraft safety

• The extent to which there may be additional impacts if solar arrays follow the daily movement of the sun

• The need for, and impact of, security measures such as lights and fencing

• Great care should be taken to ensure heritage assets are conserved in a manner appropriate to their significance, including the impact of proposals on views important to their setting. As the significance of a heritage asset derives not only from its physical presence, but also from its setting, careful consideration should be given to the impact of large scale solar farms on such assets. Depending on their scale, design and prominence, a large scale solar farm within the setting of a heritage asset may cause substantial harm to the significance of the asset

• The potential to mitigate landscape and visual impacts through, for example, screening with native hedges

• The energy generating potential, which can vary for a number of reasons including, latitude and aspect

The approach to assessing cumulative landscape and visual impact of large scale solar farms is likely to be the same as assessing the impact of wind turbines. However, in the case of ground-mounted solar panels it should be noted that with effective screening and appropriate land topography the area of a zone of visual influence could be zero