Lark Energy given belated go-ahead for 24 MW UK solar farm

A proposed 24 MW solar farm from developers Lark Energy has finally been given the go-ahead – more than two years after the initial application was first submitted.

Planning permission for proposed plant at Ellough Airfield in Suffolk, England, was originally and controversially denied last year when Secretary of State Eric Pickles personally intervened to block the development.

Pickles’ stance was at odds with the Planning Inspectorate, which gave approval for the solar farm at the time, prompting Justice Lindblom to quash the MP’s decision to refuse planning permission in the High Court.

Nine months have since passed, and Pickles has finally reversed his original decision – in no small part thanks to damning words from the Judge that called into question the reasons for Pickles’ refusal to grant permission.

"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," said Judge Lindblom. "I belive 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.”

Lark Energy’s development director, Jo Wall, welcomed the decision and remarked that she hoped it would lead to far more rational planning decisions being taken on renewable energy projects in the future, stressing that Pickles’ actions "emboldened" local authorities to reject many other potential solar developments, significantly impacting solar developers in the process.

"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," Wall said. "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."

Wall added that there was widespread concern among the solar industry that some elements of the government appeared intent on preventing large-scale solar developments, even when all necessary requirements have been met and public support was unequivocal. "This approach 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."

Lark Energy’s application for its 24 MW solar farm was carefully designed from the outset, with the developer identifying low-grade agricultural land on a former World War II airfield that lies adjacent to a substantial industrial area.