Those involved in the field of solar energy will be familiar with paragraph 112 of the NPPF which states that “where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, local planning authorities should seek to use areas of poorer quality land in preference to that of a higher quality.” An inspector dealing with an appeal against the refusal of a solar farm on farmland in Berkshire recognised that an alternative site search report is therefore implicitly required (DCS Number 400-011-885). He acknowledged that there is no detailed guidance on how such a search should be undertaken or, specifically, what area should be covered.
The report accompanying the planning application stated that ‘…one of the biggest constraints which has to be considered when developing a ground-mounted solar scheme is gaining access to the local electricity grid’, the inspector recorded. The area of search, centred on the proposed grid connection for the appeal scheme, was set at 5km although the report noted that about 2km would be preferable. This approach had been criticised by some as covering an area that was too small, the inspector noted. He reasoned, however, that it cannot be the intention of policy and guidance that every potential alternative location should be examined. It seemed reasonable and proportionate to him to limit the area of search to that likely to identify true alternative sites using the same grid connection.
Whilst this decision clearly doesn’t offer hard and fast rules about the extent of an alternative site selection search, it might be valued in offering a bit of a steer.
The following DCP chapter is relevant: 26.536