High Court Upholds Decision on Solar Farm Development Dispute Involving Best and Most Versatile Agricultural Land

Citation: [2024] EWHC 295 (Admin)
Judgment on


The case of Lullington Solar Park Ltd v Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities & Anor ([2024] EWHC 295 (Admin)) explores a planning dispute involving the decision of a planning inspector to dismiss an appeal against the refusal of planning permission for a solar farm. The judgment, delivered by His Honour Judge Jarman KC, hinges on the interpretation and application of planning law, particularly in the context of the use of Best and Most Versatile (BMV) agricultural land for alternative developments.

Key Facts

Lullington Solar Park Ltd sought to challenge the planning inspector’s decision, which dismissed their appeal to develop a 49.9MW solar farm on approximately 70ha of arable land, a significant portion of which constituted BMV land. The inspector had assigned significant weight to the renewable energy benefits arising from the proposed solar farm but opined that the loss of agricultural land outweighed these benefits, thus conflicting with both the development plan and National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The grounds of the challenge put forth were twofold: firstly, the contention that the inspector’s assessment of the claimant’s site selection assessment lacked in robustness was irrational or inadequately reasoned, and secondly, that the inspector’s approach to the Oaklands Farm solar farm proposal was flawed in various substantial aspects.

The judgment applied several overarching legal principles relevant to planning law:

  1. Respect for planning inspectors’ expertise: Inspectors’ specialized knowledge and their determinations, particularly at hearings where cross-examination is absent, must be regarded with respect, necessitating an enhanced inquisitorial duty on the inspector’s part.

  2. Reading decision letters with benevolence: Decision letters are expected to be read as a whole, flexibly, and without excessive legalism. They aren’t required to address every material consideration but must provide clarity on the principal issues.

  3. Applicability and interpretation of planning policy: While the interpretation of planning policy is a matter of law for the courts, its application is vested with the planning decision-maker, where the court will typically not interfere unless there’s evidence of irrationality.

  4. Material considerations: There are defined statutory material considerations to which a decision-maker must or must not have regard to, and others that are discretionary, which may amount to “obviously material” considerations in exceptional circumstances.

  5. Alternatives to the proposed development: The relevance of alternative sites as material considerations depends on the context. Normally, the relative merits of different uses or sites are irrelevant unless the planning policy or another substantive planning concern indicates otherwise.

  6. Rationality and adequacy of reasoning: The court assesses whether the decision-maker’s reasoning and conclusions were rational and sufficient based on the evidence presented.


The judgment decided against the claimant on both the main grounds of challenge. It found that the planning inspector did not act irrationally nor was his reasoning inadequate, especially in light of the fact that the inspector recognized the necessity of energy infrastructure development but deemed the loss of BMV agricultural land more significant in this instance. The assessment of the Oaklands Farm proposal was not seen as an error that significantly changed the outcome. The court determined that the inspector’s decision-making process was within the scope of his expertise and was consistent with legal principles governing planning decisions.


The High Court’s ruling in this case emphasizes the wide berth granted to planning inspectors in exercising their judgment, particularly in balancing competing interests such as agricultural productivity against renewable energy development. It underscores the limited scope for judicial intervention in planning decisions, reinforcing a cautious approach by the courts to second-guessing the expert judgment of planning professionals, provided their decisions are justified within the framework of rationality and material considerations. The case also addresses how current environmental policies are weighed against long-established land use principles within the legal context of planning appeals.