RPS secures consent for nationally significant solar park in Wales

13 Aug 2019

Working on behalf of Elgin Energy EsCo, our planning team has secured consent for a 30MW solar park near the heads of the valley,South Wales, under the Developments of National Significance (DNS) procedure.

Following Government subsidy cuts in 2015, the UK has seen little development of commercial-scale solar parks in recent years. However, improvements in production costs and efficiencies mean that more developers are beginning to identify that these can be viable on energy generation revenue alone.

Securing consent on the 58 hectare site presented a number of challenges for our multi-disciplinary team:

Virtually all commercial scale renewable energy schemes will have landscape, heritage and ecology impacts on local designations and some on statutory designations (usually in terms of settings)” advises Dafydd Williams, Associate.

The Welsh Government’s policy is that only direct and irreversible impact on statutory designations (i.e. National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and (“where relevant”) their settings are to be considered when deciding whether to grant planning permission for renewable energy developments.

We prepared a Landscape and Visual Appraisal and Heritage Assessment that gave largely factual accounts of landscape and heritage impact. However, we advised that these were largely academic as the impact on statutory designations was limited to a minor impact on the setting of a scheduled ancient monument (SAM) and was fully reversible at the end of the 30 years project life.

We advised that the ‘planning balance’ in terms of contributing positively to Wales’ commitment to a 95% cut in carbon emissions by 2050, its declaration of a ‘climate emergency’ and its commitment to the well-being of future generations (enshrined within the Well Being and Future Generations [Wales] Act 2015) for this nationally significant project outweighed the largely localised negative impacts.

The Inspector and the relevant local planning authorities became preoccupied with the academics of landscape and heritage impact in this case” adds Dafydd. “We stuck with our key message, that the only potentially relevant issue was the presence of a SAM around 400m to the north of the site boundary. In our view the impact on its setting was negligible and, in any case, fully and easily reversible at the end of the project life”.

The new Planning Minister’s (Julie James) decision, her first DNS, confirms that our message got through and that we took the correct approach.

This is the 5th application of its type to be determined by Welsh Ministers since 2016 when the regulations came into force and only the 4th to be approved. This decision confirms the Welsh Government’s position on renewable energy, making Wales an excellent place to invest in such schemes.

“Having a new Minister meant there was no track record of decision making” concludes Dafydd. “The Minister has applied policy in accordance with a definition of sustainable development that means the process of improving the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales by taking action”.

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