Liz Truss to ban solar projects on farms as Tory MP warns plan is 'unwise'

Liz Truss is poised to ban solar projects from most farms in England in a move that will dismay climate change campaigners and some Tory backbenchers.

The prime minister has long been opposed to solar farms on agricultural land, condemning them as "a blight on the landscape" when she was environment secretary in 2014.

And during the Tory leadership campaign this summer, she said she wanted to see farmers producing food with crops and livestock, "not filling fields with paraphernalia like solar farms".

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Confirming an imminent ban on solar projects on farmland, the PM's spokesman said: "We want to increase long term energy and food security.

"We are looking at regulations and investment that impacts farmers to make sure our projects boost food production and protect the environment. It's farmers who are best to decide how best to use their land."

Under proposed changes to planning regulations, it is estimated that solar projects would be banned from about 40% of land in England and almost 60% of agricultural land.

But the solar ban has already been criticised by Tory MP Angela Richardson, who has a majority of just 3,337 over the Liberal Democrats in her "Blue Wall" constituency of Guildford in Surrey.

"There is a planning application for a solar farm in my constituency, which I support, as it will help my local university meet its net zero aims by 2030," she tweeted.

"A blanket ban on solar farms would be unwise. They should be looked at on a case by case basis."

Ms Truss voiced her strong hostility to wind farms at the Tory leadership hustings in Darlington on 9 August and in Cheltenham on 11 August.

"I'm somebody who wants to see farmers producing food, not filling in forms, not doing red tape, not filling fields with paraphernalia like solar farms," she said in Darlington. "What we want is crops and we want livestock."

Two days later in Cheltenham, she said: "I think one of the most depressing sights when you're driving through England is seeing fields that should be full of crops or livestock full of solar panels.

"I'm not against solar panels per se. There are plenty of commercial roofs in Britain where we could be putting solar panels. But where they shouldn't be is on agricultural lands that should be used for food production."

The row over solar panels on farmland comes as the PM faces a rural rebellion over nature protection and the environment as she pursues her dash for economic growth.

Environmentalists and wildlife campaigners have reacted angrily to her response to Greenpeace protesters who interrupted her Tory conference speech, when she denounced them as part of an "anti-growth coalition".

In a Sunday Times interview at the weekend, National Trust boss Hilary McGrady accused Ms Truss of "demonising" conservationists and said her members were outraged and worried about the threat posed by her policies.

'Empowering local places'

Scrapping EU laws protecting the environment, creating the government's proposed investment zones in national parks and lifting the ban on fracking are also bitterly opposed by the green lobby.

And as MPs return to Westminster after the party conference recess with Tory support collapsing in opinion polls, some Conservative MPs are also alarmed at the prospect of voters in rural areas deserting the party.

Defending the plan to allow investment zones in national parks, a government spokesperson told Sky News: "Investment zones will deliver the growth, jobs and housing that communities want and need.

"They are not being imposed by government - we're empowering local places to deliver plans that are right for their area. We will not be downgrading the strong and established protections for national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and protected sites.

"National greenbelt policy will continue to apply and all proposals must have consent from local planners or national park authorities. Those that do not will not be taken forward and cannot become an investment zone."