Damian Green - Our Man in Westminster

I return to the subject of solar power this week, after a number of conversations with groups in various villages around Ashford who are seeing planning applications come in for solar installations on existing green fields.

There is still a widespread view that all of these are happening at the behest of the Government, and that in some way the normal planning procedures will be overturned. This is not the case, and I have now obtained chapter and verse from the Environment Minister Greg Barker.

He would like 20 Gigawatts generated from solar, but he points out that if we put solar panels on 5.2% of domestic roofs or 16% of commercial and industrial roofs that would be more than enough to meet his ambition. He adds “Inappropriately sited solar PV especially in the countryside is something that I take extremely seriously and am determined to crack down on.”

He has published a new solar roadmap, which sets out the four guiding principles that form the basis of the Government’s strategy. The key principle for the current challenges facing Ashford is that:

“Support for solar PV should ensure proposals are appropriately sited, give proper weight to environmental considerations such as landscape and visual impact, heritage and local amenity, and provide opportunities for local communities to influence decisions that affect them.”

The full strategy will be published in spring 2014, but meanwhile he is looking at whether any additional measures are needed to ensure that new solar installations are not sited in the wrong place, especially in sensitive areas of the countryside.

None of this decides any individual application, of course, as there are always arguments about specific fields and their sensitivity. But at least we now all know the rules which should decide the applications.