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Closed petition Introduce new restrictions on solar facilities to protect land and food security

Prohibit 'mega solar facilities' over 50MW on UK farmland; establish solar development preference hierarchies and regional density caps to help protect our natural landscapes, ensure food security, and conserve biodiversity.

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Government policy must align net zero aims with food security and regional integrity. Establishing formal priorities for solar development on brownfields, rooftops, and lower-grade land, plus regional solar density caps, could help ensure energy targets are met without compromising rural landscapes or broader security interests.

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Government responded

This response was given on 22 April 2024

Government recognises that solar projects impact local areas. Our planning system considers these against the need to secure a clean energy future and protect our most productive agricultural land.

Read the response in full

The UK has huge potential for solar power: it is a cheap, versatile, and effective technology that is a key part of the Government’s strategy for net zero, energy independence and clean growth.

As set out in the British Energy Security Strategy and the Energy Security Plan, we are aiming for 70 gigawatts (GW) of ground-mount and rooftop solar capacity by 2035.

Large solar projects above 50 Megawatts (MW) capacity are decided by the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime in accordance with the guidance set out in energy National Policy Statements (NPSs).

We recognise that as with any new development, solar projects may impact on communities, the environment and landscapes. It is important that the Government can strike the right balance between these considerations and securing a clean, green energy system for the future. The planning system allows all views to be taken into account when decision makers balance local impacts with national need.

As set out in the recently published, revised NPS EN-3 guidance document for renewables, solar developers should, where possible, utilise previously developed land, brownfield land, contaminated land and industrial land. Where the proposed use of any agricultural land has been shown to be necessary, poorer quality land should be preferred to higher quality land (avoiding the use of “best and most versatile” agricultural land where possible). If it is proposed to use any land falling under Natural England’s ‘best and most versatile agricultural land’ classifications (grades 1, 2, 3a), developers are required to justify using such land and design their projects to avoid, mitigate and, where necessary, compensate for any impacts.

Solar and farming can be complementary, supporting each other financially, environmentally and through shared use of land. Government considers that meeting energy security and climate change goals is urgent and of critical importance to the country, and that these goals can be achieved together with maintaining food security for the UK.

Increasing installation of rooftop solar is a priority for Government so in practice we expect a considerable proportion to come from rooftop solar projects.

In December last year, the Government introduced changes to permitted development rights for solar equipment. These changes simplify planning processes for larger commercial rooftop installations (including farm buildings) and introduce a new permitted development right for solar canopies, enabling more solar installations to benefit from the flexibilities and planning freedoms permitted development rights offer.

We also concluded a full technical consultation on the Future Homes and Building Standards. As part of the consultation, we are exploring how we can continue to drive onsite renewable electricity generation, such as solar panels, where appropriate in new homes and buildings. We are currently analysing responses.

Additionally, this year UK Government launched a new package of measures to support British farming. Under the second round of the Improving Farm Productivity grant, between £15-25 million was made available for the installation of solar equipment to help farms reduce fossil fuel use, improve their energy resilience, and accelerate progress towards net zero.

Solar projects and agricultural practice can co-exist. Many solar projects are designed to enable continued livestock grazing. A science of agrivoltaics is developing in which solar is integrated with arable farming in innovative ways. Solar energy can also be an important way for farmers to increase their revenue from land less suited to higher value crop production.

Department Energy Security & Net Zero

Food security debated by MPs

On Thursday 21 March MPs debated reports on food security from three parliamentary committees. The findings and recommendations of the reports were discussed, including the impact of environmental change and insect decline on food security.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Robbie Moore MP, responded on behalf of the Government, outlining the steps that the Government is putting in place to address the issues highlighted in the reports.

The debate was scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee.

What reports were MPs discussing?

MPs were discussing three reports that parliamentary committees have published in the last year:

The committees that published these reports are cross-party groups of MPs that look into the work of the Government.

What are backbench business debates?

Backbench business debates give backbenchers (MPs who aren’t ministers or shadow ministers) an opportunity to secure a debate on a topic of their choice, either in the Chamber or Westminster Hall.

MPs can make a request for a debate to the Backbench Business Committee, which decides which debates to schedule.

Backbench debates can either be general debates (which do not end in a vote) or be on a substantive motion (which calls for an action and can end in a vote). This debate was a general debate.

Visual explainer: Backbench Business debates

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Solar farms debated by MPs

Large-scale solar farms were debated by MPs on 18 April in Westminster Hall. The debate was led by Dr Caroline Johnson MP.

What is a Westminster Hall debate?

Westminster Hall is the second chamber of the House of Commons. Westminster Hall debates give MPs an opportunity to raise local and national issues and receive a response from a government minister. Westminster Hall debates are general debates that do not end in a vote.

Visual explainer: Westminster Hall debates

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