Solar Farm Gets Planning Permission Following High Court Quashing

The Secretary of State has finally granted planning permission for Lark Energy’s solar farm at Ellough Airfield in Suffolk.

It is more than 2 years since the application was first submitted and over nine months since Justice Lindblom’s decision in the High Court to quash the Secretary of State’s earlier decision to refuse planning permission.  This was despite the Planning Inspectorate recommending approval at the time.

The Judge had 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.”

The scheme, on a former WW2 airfield and adjacent to the Ellough Industrial Estate, 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.

Welcoming the Secretary of State’s decision, Jo Wall, Lark Energy’s Development Director, said:

“We were always concerned about the legality of the Secretary of State’s original decision as it appeared to have been made without due regard to the local plan. This was confirmed last year in the High Court.  We are, however, very pleased that, following the High Court’s quashing of the Secretary of State’s decision, he has now granted consent.

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.”

The case has also had a significant impact on many other solar companies who have had their own projects rejected by local authorities emboldened by the actions of the Secretary of State.

We hope that today’s decision will lead to far more rational planning decisions being taken on renewable energy projects in the future and that the solar industry in particular may look forward with renewed optimism to helping meet the country’s future energy needs.”

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.  It was supported by the vast majority of the 150 people who visited the local exhibition and the application attracted only 3 objections.

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.


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