Solar farms – recent judgment – the green and the blue

R (Galloway) v Durham County Council and Lightsource SPV 215 Ltd [2024] EWHC 367 (Admin)

Judgment is at:

Susan Ring of Goodenough Ring solicitors acted for the Claimant in this judicial review instructing Richard Harwood KC of 39 Essex Chambers. This was a judicial review of Durham County Council’s decision to grant planning permission to a BP PLC joint venture company for the installation and operation of a ground mounted photovoltaic (PV) solar generation system (solar farm), battery storage facility, electrical substation and associated infrastructure at Land to the East of Edge Lane, Maiden Law, Burnhope DH7 0RY under reference DM/22/01769/FPA .

The proposed solar farm was to be on restored open cast mining land next to a former mining village on the top of a steep hill where the only safe and level walking routes were on the restored land; ecology was another issue, the RSPB having objected on the grounds of adverse impact on nesting birds through loss of habitat and wholly inadequate habitat mitigation.

Local residents had urged the planning applicant not to take so much land for the solar farm in this ex-mining hill top village as this would adversely impact nesting birds and the much used footpaths on the land.

The Planning Committee members at the meeting to consider the planning application expressed concern about the huge amount of land take for the solar farm.

Mr Justice Fordham quashed the planning permission for the solar farm on the basis that the planning permission approved such a very large number and area of solar panels that they could only have a capacity under 50MW (the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project threshold) if the panels were considerably below the power of panels conventionally used and available; the Judge also drew attention to the use of inverters to control output which may lead to an excessive number of panels if the inverters are inefficient.

The LPA failed to take this into account in granting planning permission.

Fordham J also quashed a last minute non material amendment decision designed to save the planning permission.

The community hopes there will now be proper consultation and consideration (as envisaged by the Judge) of how much land in reality needs to be taken for the blue areas for solar panel coverage and where the green areas for birds and community use and footpaths will be. Planning mediation of this dispute would clearly be in the interests of all parties.