Guidance Note for the Renewable and Low Carbon Energy Generation in North Somerset Supplementary Planning Document

Site Selection

3. Site selection

Preferred sites  

3.1 Solar PV arrays should avoid areas that are undeveloped and should therefore be located on previously developed/ contaminated and industrial land and its margins. Solar PV arrays should, where practical be mounted on top of existing roofs, or integrated into new roofs and buildings. Any potential ‘greenfield’ PV site should seek to complement existing development, for example grazed land should still be able to be grazed once the development is completed. Solar PV arrays should generally avoid landscapes designated for their natural beauty or historic interest and sites of recognised ecological and archaeological importance.   

solar sheep

3.2 The potential for cumulative impact of solar PV sites arising from consents given in any one area should be avoided.  

3.3 Key significant impacts of solar PV development on the environment are generally considered to include the effects on the following receptors:  

  • Agricultural land
  • Landscape and visual impacts
  • Biodiversity
  • The historic environment
  • Flood risk   

Agricultural land   

3.4 In accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), where there is significant development of agricultural land, this should seek to use poorer quality land in preference to that of higher quality (safeguarding the long term potential of best and most versatile agricultural land and conserving soil resources). Where higher graded agricultural land is selected, a developer must explain why the development needs to be located on the site and why other suitable options may have been discounted. It is noted however, that paragraph 112 of the NPPF does guide planning authorities to take account of the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land and recognition is given to the need to support diversification of agricultural land use that helps to sustain an agricultural enterprise. Therefore, while development on lower grade land is preferred, we will consider the merits of the proposed development in the context of wider sustainability criteria. The grading of land in North Somerset can be viewed on the Agricultural Land Classification map.  

Landscape and visual considerations  

3.5 The development of solar PV arrays within North Somerset has the potential to result in significant impacts upon the landscape. Any solar PV proposal should aim to complement the character of the local landscape, particularly its scale and pattern and should be located within land areas that equate to typical field sizes, and are suited to the uniformity of a solar PV array. Ideally, the array should be set within well-hedged field boundaries, or other landscape features that provide containment.   

3.6 The planning application should be accompanied by a landscape and visual impact assessment, to be consistent with the guidelines issued by the Landscape Institute, and Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (as revised 2002). This should include detail of the potential for solar PV panels, frames and supports to have a combined reflective quality, evaluated through a glint and glare assessment.  

3.7 To avoid adverse visual impact, arrays should be sited on relatively level ground and avoid sloping upper hillside locations, to reduce their visual profile. Sites should be screened from view where possible, either by the existing landscape or by planting hedges or vegetation. It should not be possible to obtain extensive views of selected sites from sensitive public vantage points and locations where the array would be seen as a dominant element within the local landscape.   

3.8 Where any nationally protected landscape is concerned, landscape and visual impacts are likely to be the most significant environmental effects of a solar PV development. The character and quality, along with views to and from the Mendip Hills AONB will be of particular relevance in North Somerset. Elements of solar PV developments that individually or collectively, may result in adverse impacts on the AONB include:   

  • The geometric, alien colouration and non-agricultural character of development covering large areas;
  • Typically occupying south-facing exposed sites (therefore highly visible) to take best advantage of the sun’s energy;
  • Views from North Somerset Mendips will be to the North, where these south facing sites are likely to be highly visible  

3.9 It is as much for the views offered within the AONB as the views out from the Mendip Hills that the area is valued. Unsympathetic, incongruous development in these landscapes can act as a visual detractor; having an adverse impact on the character of the AONB.  These factors should therefore be taken into consideration with any proposed development.  

3.10 Any development must be temporary and enable full restoration of the site to its original state once the installation is decommissioned. Any removal of existing vegetative field boundaries will not be permitted. 

3.11 The ‘North Somerset Landscape Character Assessment Supplementary Planning Document’ provides detailed information on landscape designations. Applications should demonstrate that landscape impacts have been considered and mitigated.   

Biodiversity considerations   

3.12 The predominantly rural aspect throughout North Somerset with its varying geology and topography has resulted in a landscape of great nature conservation value which is important in both a national and international context. The development of solar PV arrays could have implications for habitat loss or fragmentation and for displacement of species, dependent upon the ecological character of the site, and its sensitivity to change. Developers are advised to avoid areas of ecological importance, especially those areas with local; national or international designations.   

3.13 In North Somerset there are four areas of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs); two National Nature Reserves which are part of the Gordano Valley and Leigh Woods; the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), 38 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), two hundred Local Wildlife Sites and over eighty Local geological Sites and local nature reserves. You can view these site designations on a North Somerset interactive map. 

3.14 Developers will be expected to maximise the ecological potential offered by their site, whilst ensuring there is no adverse impact upon protected species. An appropriate ecological impact survey should be submitted with all planning applications. The survey should identify local biodiversity networks in order to avoid restricting access and movement to native wildlife, and include suggestions to mitigate habitat impact.   

3.15 Solar PV developments can offer a range of opportunities to encourage and enhance biological diversity, these can include:  

  • establishment and management of wildflower strips between panels and around field headlands;
  • habitat enhancement for a diverse range of flora and fauna, for example by adapting built structures to encourage use by nesting, roosting or hibernating species such as bats;
  • low density grazing by sheep/geese;
  • management for grass ley/crops between the rows of panels  

Such enhancements should be considered with any potential development.  

solar bio

3.16 More information on biodiversity in North Somerset can be found in the North Somerset Biodiversity Action plan ‘Action for Nature.’ Further general advice on the assessment of sites for solar parks can be found in the technical information note produced by Natural England: ‘solar parks: maximising environmental benefits’. The guidance offers advice on integrating a range of environmental benefits into solar PV development.   

The historic environment   

3.17 Generally historic, cultural and landscape-sensitive assets should be avoided. These include conservation areas, listed buildings, and scheduled monuments, areas of archaeological importance and registered and other historic parks and gardens.   

3.18 Below-ground archaeology must not be compromised by solar PV installation and where potential archaeological interest is identified, the impact of the development on the site must be evaluated.  

Flood Risk Assessment  

3.19 The impact of a solar park site on flood risk should be considered in the Environmental Report accompanying the planning application. The surface water treatment needs to be considered carefully, given the development of infrastructure associated with sites, including inverter housings, access tracks and hard standing, which may affect surface water runoff rates and volumes. Any electrical equipment may need to be raised off the ground to avoid potential flooding.