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

The Planning Application

6. The Planning application  

Pre-application discussions

6.1 Potential developers are encouraged to engage in dialogue with North Somerset Council before submitting detailed proposals. We also advise that you engage with the local community at an early stage. Pre-application enquiries should indicate potential the solar PV array sites in plan form, and outline the likely scale of development, its height, size, method of enclosure and any accompanying structures. The authority undertakes to provide an initial response to specific site enquiries, to indicate any sensitivity associated with the site and if requested, to provide an opinion on whether an environmental screening report is required. Details of this can be found on our website.

Planning Performance Agreement (PPA)

6.2 A Planning Performance Agreement is an agreement between a developer and local planning authority that will identify key milestones and timescales for the delivery of a planning decision. It provides greater certainty and transparency to the development of scheme proposals, the planning application assessment and decision making. Anapplicant can request a PPA with us if this is felt necessary for a development proposal.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

6.3 An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a systematic process used to identify, predict and evaluate the environmental effects of a proposed project. In the context of solar PV developments, it is a formal process that aims to protect land and semi-natural areas from permanent damage, and to guard against possible negative environmental effects from solar PV development.

6.4 Solar PV arrays are not listed as schedule 1 developments in the 2011 EIA Regulations; therefore don’t automatically require an EIA. However, Schedule 2; Section 3 of the regulations under the energy industry heading specifies that any industrial energy installation producing electricity, steam and hot water, which exceeds 0.5 hectares (around 60 panels) could potentially be EIA development. As such development could potentially have a significant effect on the environment; developers are advised to seek a Screening Opinion (to inform whether an EIA is required) from us at the initial stage of the planning process.

6.5 The proposal will be assessed against the selection criteria in Schedule 3 of the EIA Regulations to enable a screening opinion to be issued. This will include the potential impact on environmental receptors including local ecology, archaeology, water resources, landscape character and visual impacts. The potential for cumulative effects with any existing or approved development (both other solar PV schemes and other types of development) will also be considered. Generally, EIA is likely to be needed for Schedule 2 developments if the solar PV development is in a particularly environmentally sensitive or vulnerable location and likely to be required for larger scale developments.  

6.6 If the council considers the proposal to fall under Schedule 2 of the 2011 EIA Regulations, an Environmental Statement (ES) needs to be prepared so that it can be considered with a planning application. Detail of the level of detail required within the ES is provided in the Appendix.

Submitting a full Planning Application

6.7 Sufficiently detailed information should accompany the planning application to allow us to fully assess any potential impact to the site and its surroundings during construction, operation and decommissioning of a solar development.

6.8 Planning applications for all renewable technology developments should give details of the energy generation potential, stated as: 

  • the installed capacity (in MW or kW),
  • the ‘capacity factor’ (the ratio of its actual output over a period of time, to its potential output if it were possible for it to operate at full nameplate capacity indefinitely)
  • the estimated annual production (MWh p.a.) 

6.9 It would be helpful to provide an indication of the number of residential properties electricity equivalent that will be provided by the development, to allow non-experts to understand the potential impact of the scheme. Such a statement should be indicative only and the assumptions used to calculate this figure should be included. 

6.10 Solar PV development should be regarded as a temporary use of land, and as such, all structures associated with the site must be removed once the site is decommissioned. Planning permission will therefore only be granted under the condition of an agreed timescale for decommissioning and with land restoration to its original use. And permission will be conditional to a further agreement that where a development ceases to be operational in advance of the consented period, the site must be returned as soon as practicable to original use. 

6.11 It is vital to ensure that solar PV panels are disposed of responsibly at the decommissioning phase of the development. An agreement on disposal will be a condition of any permission granted by us. It should be noted that from 2014, solar PV panels will be included in the scope of the recast Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2006. This means that the solar PV provider is required to register with the scheme to ensure that constituents of panels are reused, recycled and recovered after their operational lifetime. The purpose of this is to reduce the quantity of material that is sent to landfill and to ensure that what gets separately collected is dealt with properly. More details on the WEEE Directive  can be found on the Environment Agency website. 

6.12 The information we require to be submitted with any application is explained in more detail on our website. Supporting information should include but not be limited to those items listed in the Appendix.