The solar scheme is planned for Ellough airfield, near this g-kart circuit and next to an industrial estate. Photo: Blue Square Thing via Flickr.
Solar farm go ahead after High Court quashes Pickles's unlawful refusal
26th June 2014
The High Court has overturned a 'fatally flawed' decision by Eric Pickles MP to refuse planning permission for a locally popular 24MW solar farm on former WW2 airfield in Suffolk, England, close to an industrial estate and go-kart circuit.
It was clear to anyone that read the Secretary of State's decision notice that this project was a victim of political expediency rather than rigorous application of planning policy.
A decision by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to over-rule a planning inspector and refuse permission for a solar farm contained a "fatal flaw" and caused the developer, Lark Energy, "substantial prejudice".
So ruled High Court judge Justice Lindblom found in favour of Lark Energy, as he overturned Pickles's decision to reject Lark Energy's planning application for a 24MW solar farm at Ellough in Suffolk.
In particular, the judge found that "the Secretary of State's reasons leave genuine doubt that he made his decision on the appeal in the way section 38(6) [of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004] required ...
"I believe this is a fatal flaw. It goes to a fundamental part of the decision on the appeal. And it does cause Lark Energy substantial prejudice."
A victim of political expediency
Welcoming the High Court's decision, Jo Wall, Lark Energy's Development Director, said: "we were always concerned about the legality of the Secretary of State's decision as it appeared to have been made without due regard to the local plan.
"It was clear to anyone that read the Secretary of State's decision notice that this project was a victim of political expediency rather than rigorous application of planning policy."
The High Court subsequently refused the Secretary of State leave to appeal.
A popular scheme
The scheme is sited on a former WW2 airfield, part of which is still in airport use, while other parts have been developed for a variety of purposes: it contains the Ellough Industrial Estate, and Ellough Park raceway, used for go-kart racing.
The scheme was recommended for consent by the Planning Inspectorate following a public inquiry. The Secretary of State called in and subsequently overturned the decision in October 2013.
According to Lark Energy, the 24MWp scheme was "carefully designed from the outset, using predominantly low grade agricultural land on a former World War II airfield." It sits adjacent to a substantial industrial area and wraps around a large turkey factory.
The scheme is also popular among the local community: it was supported by the vast majority of the 150 people who visited the local exhibition and the application attracted only three objections.
Pickles over-ruled his own planning inspectorate
Lark Energy's original application was turned down by Waveney District Council and the company's subsequent appeal was heard at Public Inquiry. In the meantime, Lark Energy achieved consent for a smaller 14MWp scheme which has since been constructed and connected to the grid.
At the Public Inquiry, the Planning Inspector found firmly in favour of the scheme but, following the Secretary of State's use of his reserved powers, the Inspector's decision was overturned.
Jonathan Selwyn, Lark Energy's Managing Director, commented: "We were surprised and disappointed that the Secretary of State chose to overturn the decision reached by the Planning Inspector and are very pleased that the High Court has determined that this decision was not properly made."
A leading player in farm-scale solar
He continued: "In cases such as this where projects are in line with national planning guidance, reflect the requirements of local plans and attract the support of the vast majority of local people, developers have the right to be treated fairly by both local councillors and the Secretary of State.
"It would seem that some elements of the government wish to prevent large scale solar developments even where the majority of the public supports them.
"This is in stark contrast to the treatment afforded the far less popular fracking and nuclear industries and is difficult for the many SMEs engaged in the solar sector to understand."
Lark Energy is one of the leading players in the growing large scale solar sector, having developed 235MWp and installed over 140 MWp of solar across the UK since June 2011 - including the largest solar farm in the country at Wymeswold Airfield near Loughborough.
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