A solar appeal (ref is APP/Y1138/W/22/3293104) at which Pegasus provided planning, heritage and landscape expert witness services at a public inquiry for a 49.9MW solar farm with a battery storage system has been allowed in Mid-Devon District Council.  The appeal was recovered by the Secretary of State, and the appeal was allowed with costs awarded against the Local Planning Authority.  In addition to the renewable energy benefits being held to outweigh the landscape harm this decision, issued on 5th December 2022, by the Secretary of State is particularly noteworthy for two key planning reasons.

First, it is a very recent of statement of intent endorsed by the Secretary of State that the loss of Grade 3b agricultural land should not receive policy protection, even if it were a permanent and total loss.  This decision is especially significant given the recent turmoil on potential mooted changes to agricultural land policy through the hustings and pronouncements during the Government’s leadership campaigns over the summer/autumn and associated questions over whether Best and Most Versatile land protection may be extended into the Grade 3b agricultural land category.  The Secretary of State determined that the impact on Grade 3b land should be afforded neutral weight in the overall planning balance.

Second, the issue of the safety of Battery and Energy Storage Systems (BESS) was at the heart of the public inquiry proceedings.  The Inspector accepted that the co-location of a BESS with the solar farm was sensible in terms of economies of scale and minimising land take; that BESS was a critical element in reaching a secure low carbon energy solution; and that from the evidence it is clear that this is not untested technology and although the detail of the systems was doubtless still evolving, there is very little to suggest that there is a substantial risk of thermal runaway leading to explosion or fire; further that it is reasonable that the final choice of technology will be fixed later; and that underlying all these matters is the fact that other regimes operate in this field to regulate the safe operation of such installations. The Inspector therefore concluded that national policy is clear that the focus of planning decisions should be on whether a proposal is an acceptable use of land, rather than the control of processes where these are subject to separate regimes. Planning decisions should assume that these regimes will operate effectively. As a result, the Secretary of State agreed with the Inspector that there is nothing in relation to the safety of the BESS which should weigh against the proposal in the planning balance.

Given the questioning of the safety of BESS by some respondents, the Inspector’s and the Secretary of State’s determination on this matter should provide welcome clarity and certainty to decision-makers in the future.

Please contact Paul Burrell for further information on this Appeal and its implications.