In a recovered appeal Pickles has disagreed with his inspector and refused a 24MW Solar Farm. There was already permission for a 14mw farm on part of the site.
Interestingly he quotes the new guidance as material even though it has been through no consultation (contrary to the Arrhaus convention).
The 100 or so jobs created during construction ‘would not be local, and limited to the construction phase of the development’
‘[the SoS] agrees with the Inspector that the economic benefits of the scheme are important considerations but given they are limited the Secretary of State affords them only moderate weight in support of the proposal.
Although the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the wider environmental benefits [from clean sustainable energy] should be afforded significant weight (IR82), taking account of the Guidance, he recognises that new renewable and low carbon energy infrastructure should only be provided in locations where the local environmental impact is acceptable (paragraph 3 of the Guidance)
The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the harm to the character and appearance of the area would not amount to significant adverse effects but,
nevertheless, considers the effect on the character of the site, although limited, would be adverse
Now it gets interesting. The benefits of the scheme are significant, the adverse effects are not. Even without para 14 of the NPPF requiring the disbenefits to outweigh the benefits before refusal this ought to be a straight approval.
The Secretary of State has carefully considered the planning balance in this case and the Inspector’s view that the significant benefits of the proposal outweigh the limited harm to the character and appearance of the countryside. In coming to his conclusion the Secretary of State has taken into account that a scheme in the northern part of the site has already been approved by the Council. The permitted scheme, he considers to provide an important ‘fall back’ position and to be a material consideration in his determination of this appeal.
Bearing in mind his conclusions that the local environmental benefits of the appeal scheme are comparable to those provided by the permitted scheme, and the economic benefits are limited, the Secretary of State considers there to be two key differences between the appeal scheme and permitted proposals.
Firstly, he recognises that the appeal scheme would generate a larger amount of renewable electricity, although he has also taken into consideration that this should not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities, as set out in paragraph 5 of the Guidance.
Secondly, the Secretary of State recognises that the limited harm caused by the appeal scheme is greater than the very limited harm that would be caused by the permitted scheme, ...He is aware that the impact on the character and appearance of the area, in particular the HTCLA, was commonly referred to in the representations of local residents and, in line with paragraphs 5 and 8 of the Guidance, he has had regard to these concerns.
Overall, the Secretary of State considers that, in this case, the increase in the amount of renewable energy generated by the appeal scheme does not outweigh the additional harm caused to the character and appearance of the area
Quite the dodgiest SoS decision in years, and I welcome the new guidance as it recognises the landscape harm that solar farms can cause. The problem is that the SoS was desperate to show he was backing local objections to renewable schemes, even though according to the still extant Planning system General Principles this by itslef is not a material planning consideration. No we can see why the crucial paragraph from PSGP was omitted from beta guidance, to enable decisions such as this. In doing so the SoS has abandoned all good principles of planning decisions making and simply played to the crowd.
There are many grounds for JR here and it will undoubtedly be challenged. Firstly the SoS relied on guidance which has never been subject to consultation. Secondly he gave guidance greater weight that national policy in the NPPF which statements in Parliament have made clear does not amount to a change in renewable energy policy. Thirdly the planning balence issue clearly show the benefits are significant and the dis-benefits are not – clearly in breach of para 14 of the NPPF and the presumption in favour of unsustainable development. Fourthly the treatment of the fallback position is a total dogs breakfast the SoS should have considered the net impact positive and negative de novo and this clearly maintains the planning balance weighting as set out before. Clearly adding 10 mw to 14 mw makes a significant benefit almost doubly significant. Finally the SoS has had regard to an immaterial planning consideration, weight of public opposition, and not a a material planning issue, the harm that may or may not be caused to the landscape. That such matters are not material is a matter of common law and the SoS cannot have regard to them unless there is a change in the law not through guidance, which is wholly unreasonable to interpret now permits, when it never has before, public opposition in isolation to be considered as material.
This decision stinks, if it stands we might as well throw away planning examinations and have decisions determined by X-factor style referenda and accept that will mean almost no housing or renewable energy installations in the country. Also perhaps indicates the folly of hiving off renewable energy decisions to a junior minister that never normally deals with recovered appeals, or course if Boles did decide it there is a another grounds for JR as clearly he has a family pecuniary interest in restricting non-renewable forms of sustainable energy.