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Dismay over plan to ban solar from farmland

Reports that the government is planning to ban solar farms from most of farmland across England have left landowners ‘dismayed…

Reports that the government is planning to ban solar farms from most of farmland across England has left landowners ‘dismayed and surprised’.

Reacting to the news that the new environment secretary Ranil Jayawardena is against solar panels on agricultural land because it impedes his programme of growth and boosting food production, Alastair Frew, head of the Renewables team at Lodders, said: “Landowners are dismayed and surprised at the government’s change of heart regarding solar panels.

“Apparently, the environment secretary has asked officials to redefine the ‘best and most versatile’ land (BMV) that is earmarked for farming, to include a middle to low category 3b,” he explained.

“While farmers are likely to support the protection of grade 3 farmland, this proposed policy change will make it significantly more difficult to develop solar energy in England, unless the development of upland areas is allowed. Currently, planning policy strictly protects visual amenity, so upland schemes are almost impossible.”


In recent years, farmers and landowners have used solar as a useful diversification project, but if the change should become law, this potential boost to income streams will be a huge challenge:

“Solar is a way of increasing income streams for farmers,” explains John Rouse, a partner in Lodders’ Private Client and Agriculture teams, and a specialist in advising landowners and farmers on business structuring, trusts and blood line planning.

“Most solar panel sites can also be grazed by sheep, so do not stop all agricultural activity as implied as one of the main reasons behind the government’s planned ban.

“Of course, solar panel sites need to be considered as part of wider structuring decisions and future planning to ensure they don’t result in the farming business being deemed an investment business rather than a trading business, because this can have a big effect on inheritance tax.”

He added: “If the idea of extending BMV to grade 3b land does indeed become law – and this will be a pretty long road before reaching that point – then solar will effectively be banned from more than 40% of England’s land. This would mean that farmers face yet another challenge of how to keep farm incomes up, perhaps via other types of diversification projects, but will face similar issues if the plans involve taking land out of agricultural operation.”

Inconsistent and misadvised

Alastair commented: “In a wider context, given the need for cleaner energy, the goal of net zero, and the government’s indication that planning policy for on-shore wind turbines will be relaxed, not to mention the current political and economic landscapes, any ban would be inconsistent and misadvised – and hopefully, short-lived.”

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