Mid Suffolk District Council is urging developers looking to build solar farms or other renewable energy developments in the district to listen to the concerns of local communities.
The council has agreed a new position statement spelling out what it expects of developers and providing clarity over the council’s position: balancing the need for sustainable energy with protecting valuable farmland and heritage.
The position statement recognises that, while there are clear environmental and social benefits of providing renewable and low carbon energy, there are also challenges when considering these types of developments.
With each planning application, the council expects consideration to be given to the loss of agricultural land, the potential harm to the diverse character of the landscape and the concerns and fears expressed by communities.
When developers are engaging on matters of concern with local communities, they are strongly encouraged to set out how the development could provide benefits for local communities as well as the steps need to address any concerns.
The position statement acknowledges the valuable contribution renewable and low carbon energy sources make to national energy security and states that Mid Suffolk District Council will reflect on any ministerial statements or national policy guidance issued on such developments as and when released.
The council also encourages the installation of solar panels on existing or new buildings, whilst recognising that this is largely directed by national building regulations.
Andy Mellen, leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, said: “Mid Suffolk is one of the sunniest places in the country, so it’s no surprise that we are attracting a lot of planning applications relating to renewable energy – particularly in the form of solar power.
“As a Green council, we do want to see local renewable energy production – it will be impossible for the country to meet its climate objectives without it – but are very aware of the challenges that come along with that. When these applications come in, our communities regularly express their concerns and we want to make sure that residents’ voices are heard and that the district retains its beautiful and productive agricultural landscape.
“The National Policy Planning Framework guides our planning decisions, but currently does not adequately protect the best and most versatile farmland. Nor does it allow us to compel developers to put solar panels on the roofs of new homes.
“Energy production is a national priority, but so is food production. We want to make the right choices for the planet and for our people, but we need the national policy framework in which to make them. Roof before rural is our strong preference.
“In the meantime, we strongly encourage developers to consider agriculture, the landscape and our communities when they submit their applications and to listen and respond to local concerns.”