Govt reiterates brownfield site guidance for solar farms

  • Energy Secretary Clare Coutinho MP expands guidelines on land use
  • Need to balance “competing priorities” of food and energy
  • ‘Best and Most Versatile’ (BMV) agricultural land to be protected for food
  • Reiterates guidance on brownfield sites for solar
  • Solar Energy UK says solar farms are “no threat to food security”
Aerial view of a flock of sheep grazing in a solar farm with solar panels at sunset

The UK government has said it will set out plans to balance big solar projects and food production

The government will set out plans to protect the UK’s food supply chain and energy security amid concerns that big solar projects are taking land that could be used for farming, according to Clare Coutinho MP, the Energy and Net-Zero Secretary. 

In a statement, Coutinho said the government will look to expand upon guidelines set out in its National Policy Statement in January 2024, to balance the “competing priorities” of food production and energy security.

Price increases in both food and energy since 2021, made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, have put pressure on the economy and caused the cost-of-living crisis.

In her statement, Coutinho insisted that the government is committed to renewable energy and big solar projects, even though food production should be prioritised. 

At the moment, applicants for PV projects should apply to use brownfield space – land that has already been used for something else – or contaminated or industrial land, according to the National Policy Statement. 

The reason for this is to protect what is called the ‘Best and Most Versatile’ (BMV) agricultural land, which is ideal for farming. 

However, this is only a guideline and is not set in law, and Coutinho’s statement comes as there are growing concerns in the government that either the UK’s food production or energy security would be at risk if the industries are forced to compete for the same space. 

“In balancing both the need for energy security and food production, we are concerned that as large solar developments proceed at pace, more of our BMV land could be used for solar PV instead of food production,” she said. 

“I am therefore setting out further detail about how our policy on balancing these competing priorities is intended to be applied.”

The only detail about how the government plans to balance big solar projects and food production is by supporting an independent certification in soil surveys to make sure the project planning process is accurate and fair. 

According to Solar Energy UK, this should help avoid disputes over which land is higher quality and should be used for farming. 

The solar trade association insisted that solar farms offer “multiple simultaneous uses of land” and that it is common for farming to continue after a solar project was launched. 

Reacting to Coutinho’s comment, Chris Hewett, Chief Executive of Solar Energy UK, said solar power was not a threat to food production as it was helping fight climate change. 

“Solar farms take up a tiny fraction of the country, which will still be the case in 2035 when the Government expects us to have four times current solar generation capacity. They are no threat to food security; they never have been and never will be. In fact, it’s the opposite”.

“According to Defra, the main threat to food security is climate change, which is what solar farms are there to fight. 

“Furthermore, without solar farms, hundreds of traditional farming businesses would have gone to the wall, unable to produce food without the security of a reliable income.” 


Written by:
Max joined The Eco Experts as content manager in February 2024. He has written about sustainability issues across numerous industries, including maritime, supply chain, finance, mining and retail. He has also written for  City AM, The Morning Star and the Daily Express.
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