The demand for solar and battery storage sites in England has grown incredibly quickly over the past few years. As the number of available sites in the most obvious locations dwindle, developers are increasingly turning to sites located within one of England’s 14 Green Belts. While a Green Belt designation is clearly a significant constraint to most forms of development, the urgent need for renewable energy and storage capacity means that these sites should not be ruled out for solar and battery schemes.
Green Belts were introduced from the 1930s with the overarching aim of protecting the countryside prevent settlements from merging together. National planning policy explains that ‘the fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open’ and lists five purposes of the Green Belt.
Solar and battery sites in the Green Belt should be assessed on a case by case basis to determine whether they would conflict with the five Green Belt purposes. In many cases, the schemes are compatible with most of the purposes as they do not typically result in further development or urban sprawl. The impact of the development on the openness of the Green Belt will be a key consideration for most Green Belt proposals and this will depend on the existing character of each site and the scale of development. A Landscape and Visual Appraisal assessing the impact on the openness of the Green Belt should normally be submitted with the planning application.
Some elements of renewable energy projects are considered to be ‘inappropriate development in the Green Belt’ which is to be avoided except in ‘very special circumstances’. National policy explicitly states that ‘the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy from renewable sources’ can contribute to the very special circumstances put forward to justify development in the Green Belt.
In our experience, a strong case for very special circumstances can be made based on environmental benefits and the need for an available grid connection, especially if the scheme is temporary and reversible. Local authorities are increasingly receptive to these arguments, especially where they have declared a climate emergency. Wehave recently had positive pre-application meetings and responses from planning officers which confirm that this approach can be successful.
There are already several precedents for these types of development in the Green Belt in England, including a large battery scheme in the York Green Belt which was approved last year. We expect further success in this area following a recent appeal for a solar array in Hertfordshire where the Planning Inspectorate gave substantial weight to the anticipated reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and allowed the development.
Please contact Tim Wheeler in our planning team if you would like further information on solar and battery projects in the Green Belt.