Further to ongoing matters relating to the proposed solar farm just outside of Camblesforth, noting the various comments on social media about the proposed site being prime agricultural land, the Parish Council has asked Helios if this was the case. Their response can be found below:
Many thanks for the email, we’re more than happy to provide a bit of background and additional information to help clarify this point.
As I’m sure you will understand, due to the size of the site, there are a range of agricultural land types and quality. This does include areas of Best and Most Versatile (BMV) Land, alongside other areas of lower quality land. Alongside other extensive environmental and technical surveys, understanding the agricultural land resource, together with the soil resource and function, are important assessments for us to undertake as we progress the scheme design and carry out an environmental impact assessment of its effects. This assessment work is in progress and once complete will provide an overview of the site’s agricultural land quality.
We submitted a Scoping Report to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) in June this year which set out our proposed approach to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). PINS provided its response in July 2022 which confirmed the scope of our EIA. The Scoping Report and PINS’ Scoping Opinion can be accessed here:
Helios Renewable Energy Project | National Infrastructure Planning (planninginspectorate.gov.uk). An initial report on the agricultural land classification at the site is included in Appendix 14.1 to our Scoping Report. This identifies the proportion of land within each agricultural land grade at the site. This is only the initial stage of assessment for the site, however, as we will also be looking at the current use of the site and its agricultural yield as part of our assessment work. In its Scoping Opinion, PINS has asked us to provide a regional assessment of the loss of BMV land and assess any significant effects where they are likely to occur – this assessment is currently in progress.
We are at an early stage in the development of the proposals and our assessment work. The preliminary findings of our EIA, including those relating to agricultural land resource and soils, will be made publicly available at the next stage of consultation, when we will be publishing a Preliminary Environmental Information Report (PEIR). The PEIR will provide an account of the EIA findings at that point in time and it is our intention that this will be in the form of a draft Environmental Statement (ES). Following consultation, we are required to have regard to all consultation feedback before we finalise our proposals and the accompanying ES for submission to PINS.
We have noted points from our recent consultation regarding the preference to use brownfield sites nearby. Further information on our site selection process will be included within the PEIR and our final submission.
We will ensure to share further details with you as we proceed towards the next phase of consultation.
By way of some context on this point – the latest agricultural land statistics (DEFRA, 2021) state that in 2021, there was just over 8.8 million hectares of utilised agricultural land in England – this includes arable and horticultural crops, uncropped arable land, land used for outdoor pigs, temporary and permanent grassland and common rough grazing. Just under 4.9 million hectares of this is defined as ‘croppable’ land (consisting of cereals, oilseeds, potatoes, other arable crops, horticultural crops, uncropped arable land and temporary grassland). A recent publication by the Conservative Energy Network (CEN) states that ‘Currently, 0.08% of all land is taken up by solar farms. This would only increase to just under 0.4% if we managed to increase solar coverage to 70GW of capacity, which the Energy Security Strategy stated as the target for 2035. This is the equivalent of less than one third of the land currently occupied by golf courses across the United Kingdom’.
On 25th August 2022, Carbon Brief published a research piece on the impact of solar power on UK farmland. The piece is available here – https://www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-is-solar-power-a-threat-to-uk-farmland/?s=09 and may be helpful to Councillors in their discussions with the community.
Importantly, from a planning policy perspective, the National Policy Statements against which NSIPs are determined do not prohibit the development of solar on BMV. The reversible nature of solar development can deliver improvements to soil taken out of intensive agricultural use and also deliver significant biodiversity benefits. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has made it clear that climate change, not solar power, is the “biggest medium- to long-term risk” to the nation’s domestic food supply.
I think it would be beneficial for us to arrange to come and meet you at a point at which we will have further information about this issue – unfortunately, we won’t be able to make the September meeting on the 21st, and we won’t be able to provide much more information than was contained in the consultation at that point. Perhaps we could arrange to come and present at a meeting closer to the statutory consultation, which will take place a little later this year / early next. By that point we will be able to discuss these points in much further detail. There is still a long time before the Council will be asked to comment on the proposals formally – we would be pleased to come and present the detail to you prior to this point so that you have the information required to consider the proposals more fully at that point.
However, in the meantime, we’d be more than happy to answer any questions that arise and provide information where we can.