North Somerset Council has adopted new, stricter supplementary planning guidance for the development of solar farms in the area.

In light of a large increase in solar farm planning applications, the council decided to consult on a supplementary planning guidance (SPD) for free standing solar to address potential landscape impact issues. After two consultations, the SPD was adopted this month.

The council notes that the SPD has statutory weight and will be of material consideration in the determination of planning applications.

With regard to site selection, the SPD states that rooftop developments are preferred but, if free standing, previously developed land is strongly recommended. The document states: “The expectation is that where possible solar PV arrays are located on previously developed and/or contaminated and industrial land and its margins, and should avoid areas that are underdeveloped…If the proposal does involve Greenfield land, it should avoid using the best and most versatile agricultural land (grades one and two), be closely related to other built developments such as farm buildings or hardstandings, and allow for continued agricultural use and/or encourage biodiversity improvements around the arrays…Solar PV arrays should avoid landscapes designated for their natural beauty or historic interest and sites of recognised ecological and archaeological importance.”

Critically, the council warns that solar farm proposals in the North Somerset Green Belt will “almost certainly be refused on the grounds that they comprise inappropriate development by virtue of their impact on openness and on the purposes of Green Belt designation”.

The council also states that it expects solar farm developers to comply with the Solar Trade Association’s recent 10 commitments, which places great emphasis on community engagement and consideration of local concerns. The commitments also urge developers to be sensitive to the local landscape as well as protecting the ecological value of the land – something that North Somerset Council is keen to stress, stating that “developers will be expected to maximise the ecological potential offered by their site, whilst ensuring there is no adverse impact on protected species”.

According to analysis by NPD Solarbuzz, the UK’s solar farm sector has a project pipeline (large-scale projects at application/consent/under-construction phases) approaching the 3GW mark. Well over 1GW is at site-selection and/or initial public-hearing status at the village hall level.