Ministers hope to prevent solar farms in the countryside


The Guardian reported (on 10 October 2022) that the new environment secretary, Ranil Jayawardena, has asked government officials to redefine "best and most versatile" land (BMV) to include class 3b. The glossary of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) currently describes best and most versatile agricultural land as being land in grades 1, 2 and 3a of the Agricultural Land Classification. 

The possible change is important because paragraph 174 (b) and footnote 58 to paragraph 175 of the NPPF suggest that solar farms should not be built on BMV land unless material considerations say otherwise.

Currently, the development of most solar farms is on grade 3b land and extending BMV to include grade 3b would mean that 41% of the land area of England (or about 58% of England's agricultural land) would be classed as unsuitable for solar farms.

During her campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party, the Prime Minister Liz Truss vowed to block solar farms on agricultural land.  The former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice had initially told the environmental audit committee that BMV included 3b land but one of his final acts before he was replaced was to clarify that BMV was defined as class 1, 2 and 3a land only.  The combined effects of these could be to indicate the direction of travel for the government.  If this latest change comes into force it will inevitably impact on the ability for the country to meet the net zero goals.

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