The government will release revised planning guidance for renewables intended to give local communities more power over proposed developments.

The minister for energy and climate change, Greg Barker, said that the new guidelines will ensure that renewable projects do not “automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities”.

It appears that the revised planning guidelines have been pushed through in response to mounting criticism over the development of rural solar farms.

In response to a question from Sarah Wollaston MP which called for the minister to set out the practical steps he was taking to ensure the appropriate development of solar farms, Barker said: “Well-sited solar can be great and often is, but inappropriate developments risk alienating public support. That’s why I am very pleased to say that, in the next few weeks, as a result of close work with DCLG, we will be releasing revised planning guidance for renewables that will mean renewable energy doesn’t automatically override environmental protections and planning concerns of local communities.

“It will make clear that care should be taken to preserve heritage assets and beautiful countryside, including the impact of planning proposals on views and landscapes when it comes to things like solar – in addition to our own sustainability criteria that we are working closely with the industry on.”     

The minister’s answer confirms a story that was published in the Daily Mail, titled ‘Locals win right to veto solar farms in bid to keep panels out of the countryside’. Industry insiders have expressed dismay that they have had to learn about updated solar policy through the newspaper and not an official announcement.

Commenting on the news, Julian Patrick CEO of Freewatt said: “There is much that the minister says that we at Freewatt would agree with. Solar farms should be sited properly and appropriately and as a responsible company we take the relationship with our local community very seriously indeed.

“Our own solar farm, for instance, ensures that it blends in with the pressing needs of agriculture and heritage by using the farm as a place to graze rare breed sheep and all of the residents of nearby properties are completely satisfied that the farm has had no impact on their life.

“That said some objections to these developments are based on lack of understanding and knowledge and the Government must be careful not to allow the often  misplaced opposition of the minority scupper the long-term energy needs of the country.

“Sensible and responsibly managed solar farm developments are vital to meet the carbon reduction targets and to help farmers keep their business sustainable for the future.

“Any proposed changed to planning regulations must ensure they do not tip the balance in favour of the vocal few to the detriment of the larger majority.”

The issue of solar developments on greenfield land is due to be debated in parliament later today.

Twitter reaction: