Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Solar Farm update: We finally have planning permission!

I should probably call this article ‘How I managed to get planning permission granted for a solar farm after initially getting refused’. But I’m sure the algorithm will find it anyway…

Its been a LONG time since the last update. Since then, we put in an application for planning permission and… got refused. This was pretty devastating, and I was fairly convinced that was the end. I’d close down the company, write off all the money already spent and spend my days grumpily complaining to people how the system was broken. Instead… we now have permission! and here is the epic story.

When we initially made our planning application, it included about 30 separate documents detailing stuff like what trees we would plant (to compensate for the horror of building a solar farm. We wont cut down any…), which roads our trucks would go down, what the soil was like, what bird species were common nearby, what panels we would use, what angle they would be at, where the substation would be, what the cables would be like, where the cables would go, what the mounting frames were like, whether or not any great crested newts had been seen in the vicinity of the site in the last decade…

The ridiculously long timeline for the council making a decision came to the end… and then they asked for an extension. We sighed and said yes (to be clear: you have zero real choice). Then when that expired they asked for another extension. We had to say yes again. Then eventually they turned it down.

They do not even email you to tell you. You have to keep checking the site. Yes I am serious.

The reason it was turned down was because its about half a mile away from a long hill (80 miles long in fact), called Offas Dyke. This is a historically interesting hill. Its technically a historical monument. There was absolute dread that there were places on this hill, that if you looked west, you might see our solar farm, and then presumably commit suicide out of horror. Thus we got turned down.

If you think this is insane, I haven’t even told you the best bit.

All the places on the hill that have an offensive view of our site… are private property. The public cannot even go there. I guess that the theory is that people trespassing on private property might interrupt their late night burglary attempts, look west and then recoil in horror at the sight? Needless to say there were no objections to our proposal from any residents.

To make it even more ridiculous, when you stand on the site of our farm and look at the dyke, there is a fucking house on it. A private house. How the hell did that get planning permission?


We decided that this decision was clearly insane, so we resubmitted, with some changes to the layout to mitigate the horrific devastation to the eyeballs that a 1.2mwp solar farm might cause. This resulted in a response from the council, from a hired consultancy company who they asked to appraise some of our paperwork, stating that our visual impact assessment was not good enough, because, among other comments, some of the photos were of low DPI, and one of the diagrams didn’t have a North-symbol on it. Yes really. And yes, amazingly, that company can be hired as consultants to do visual impact assessments which would have been much better. Oh yes, totally legit. Nothing to see here…

This painful smile is what planning permission looks like.

So how did we get it through this time?

I made a tactical error the first time, in that I thought if we include all the information, and make a reasonable proposal, it would be granted. This was naive. That time, the decision was made by a single ‘officer’ at the council (this is called ‘delegated powers’). Basically someone reads all 30 documents, then decides to grant or refuse, and they refused. This time around, that same planning officer was not available, so we got someone else, but the second time… I actually lobbied for support.

I emailed the local Councillors for the area, I emailed the mayor of the nearest town, I emailed every environmental pressure group I could find in the county. I emailed the local MP (who ignored me…too busy tweeting about renewable energy believe it or not), I emailed the Green party, The Labour Party and local conservative Councillors. I emailed and facebooked, and tweeted at everyone I could find who was remotely in any way associated with green energy, environmental politics in the local area, or local politics of any kind. I read every news article in every local paper that ever mentioned solar farms looking for names of people that might show their support.

Politically, the most supportive were probably the Green party, but in terms of practical help, it was mostly the conservative party. By a huge margin the least help came from the Liberal Democrats, who basically said ‘good luck, but we don’t get involved’. Thanks. Duly noted.


Eventually this all came down to a one hour planning meeting 3 hours drive from my house… so I went up there and arranged to speak. I was allowed to speak for 3 minutes, and not allowed to speak otherwise. This was a ‘planning committee meeting’ instead of a single officer’s ‘delegated powers’ decision. THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT. A single person will not want to be blamed for anything bad, so they default to refusing everything. In fact, the planning officer’s recommendation was REFUSE, due to archaeological and history concerns (again). Despite this, it was clear that every single Councillor on the committee was very very strongly in favor, and said so, sometimes pretty passionately, talking about climate emergencies and how ridiculous the claims of the history and archaeology groups were. It went to a vote and we won, unanimously! with a few easy conditions (every one of which is pointless, as they are all already addressed in the 30 documents in our proposal). I think it was overwhelming enough that my 3 minute talk didn’t ‘win’ it, but I do think it helped, as I preempted some concerns and addressed them.

Thats me at the back to the left. Looks like I’m wearing sunglasses… I am not.

It took about 3 days to get the website changed so it officially said granted. Again, obviously no email to tell me… *sigh*. The next morning after the meeting, we went along to the site for the first time to meet the landowner, who is a sheep farmer. He told me he has been trying to get renewable energy on part of his farmland since 1997. TWENTY FIVE YEARS. But yeah… we are totally going to be netzero soon right?

So what next?

Now we need to get a date from the DNO (power network company) for when they can finalize their grid connection and we can provide power. I am hoping for Q1/Q2 2023 but I bet it Q3/Q4. You basically have zero say in this, despite phenomenal cost. I’ve emailed them and am awaiting a reply. The site is muddy and hilly enough to preclude a winter build anyway, so we are looking at April next year to build it as a best case scenario. It would be amazing, but unlikely, to catch much of the 2023 summer output.

I still have 3,024 solar panels in a warehouse waiting to be fitted. I wont order battery or inverters until we get a connection date. Hilariously the panels have gone up in price since I bought them, so its not a bad thing I ordered early, especially given ongoing supply chain woes. There will likely not be updates on this blog for a few months, until I start ordering things and we have proper dates. I still suspect that the hardest part is over, because planning in the UK is so evil, it makes absolutely everything else look easy…

9 thoughts on Solar Farm update: We finally have planning permission!

  1. I followed this story and I’m happy that you finally got the permission. Congratulations, Cliffski!

  2. Now I’m *really* scared about trying to get a loft extension in the house we’re buying in London.

  3. Congratulations!

    > in terms of practical help, it was mostly the conservative party. By a huge margin the least help came from the Liberal Democrats, who basically said ‘good luck, but we don’t get involved’.

    I’m surprised that you got practical help from anyone at all. Did your experience working in Democracy help during this endeavour, and will it get reflected into some game mechanics (perhaps simulating bureaucracy)?

    Also I must to point out that none of the two pictures included on this article have a North-symbol on them. You are clearly a malfeasant looking for trouble.

  4. I’m very curious if this regulatory compliance were applied across the whole of the UK how much power would be available? That is to say “if you dump (potentially billions) into building up green energy in an operation like this what is the maximum power output?

    1. I think another 30GW (which is huge) is theoretically in the pipeline, but a large chunk of that will turn out not to be feasible either from a planning or grid connection point of view.
      It remains to be seen whether the planning application, or our grid connection takes the longest. Grid connection quotes are incredibly vague, and there is zero competition, so you have to basically pay what they demand and accept what you get. It badly needs reform into a true free market.

      1. Oh no. Sorry to hear it takes so long.

        The grid from what I understand can be a problem here in America as well because it was originally built so many decades ago. The regulations in the UK mostly have me thinking in terms of feasibility like if *everyone* contributed could the grid go green or would it be stuck with some non green sources?
        With 30 GW more available (and assuming wikipedia and my math are both correct) that could push the grid over what it needs but if half of it wasn’t accepted then maybe not so much..

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