Skip to content

Solar panels must not be built on good farmland, ministers tell councils

Local councils will be urged by ministers not to approve planning permission for solar farms on high-quality farmland as part of Rishi Sunak’s drive to protect food security.

A written ministerial statement will be laid before Parliament today – Wednesday 15 May – making clear that such projects should only be given the go-ahead when “necessary”.

New planning framework unveiled six months ago was meant to make the position clear, but ministers fear projects are still being approved that fall short of their demands.

Councils will also be told to take into account whether other solar farms are nearby when considering an application for a new one, thereby focusing on the “cumulative” impact.

It comes after a vocal campaign on the issue by the Countryside Alliance. The Alliance has repeatedly raised concerns over the threat to UK food security as a result of leaving less land available for agricultural production.

Subsidies and developer incentives have created a situation where the conversion of agricultural farms to solar can be lucrative to landowners. There are, however, wider economic implications beyond the ability of single farms to generate revenue. Tenant farmers have been threatened with eviction so that land can be used for solar and are facing added pressure on land values. These trends risk making it harder for new entrants to join the sector and begin farming, in turn threatening the long-run agricultural skill base.

Additionally, the economic viability of solar farms relies on cost-effective connection to a nearby electric substation. As a result, solar farm developments tend to cluster in areas where a nearby substation is available, which disproportionately impacts affected communities.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Claire Coutinho, the Energy Security Secretary said:

“As the Prime Minister set out this week, rising threats around the world mean we must have a renewed emphasis on our security.

“That means protecting our food security whilst also delivering the cheap energy we need.

“We are taking further steps today to make sure we can get that balance right.

“I want to see more solar on rooftops and where that’s not possible for agricultural land to be protected and for the cumulative impact on local villages to be considered where they are facing a high number of solar farm applications.

“We will make sure we reach our solar targets in a sensible way, that delivers clean, cheaper energy but does not compromise our food security.”

Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance said:

"Energy infrastructure must be sited sensitively, and for food production to remain the primary use of productive agricultural land. We welcome this statement as an important supplement to the recent revised planning framework".

He added:

"Like the government, we think there is much greater scope for encouraging solar panels to be placed on existing and new industrial and housing sites, to help ensure rural areas aren’t asked to bear a disproportionate burden in the move to a net-zero energy system. That transition can’t happen without continued public support".

Become a member

Join the Countryside Alliance

We are the most effective campaigning organisation in the countryside.

  • life Protect our way of life
  • news Access our latest news
  • insurance Benefit from insurance cover
  • magazine Receive our magazine