Agricultural Land Classifications (ALCs) For Solar and Battery Storage
At Roberts Environmental Limited we are frequently approached by clients who are looking to develop Solar and Battery Storage projects on sites currently used for agricultural purposes.
Whether needing to satisfy a planning condition or looking for additional information to inform development plans, one of the assessments we advise to carry out is an Agricultural Land Classification (ALC).
What Type of Agricultural Land can Solar and Battery Storage Projects be developed on?
The ALC system provides a method for assessing the quality of undeveloped / farmland in England and Wales and classifies land into 6 Grades:
The ‘Best and Most Versatile (BMV)’ agricultural land is defined as land which falls in ALC grades 1 to 3a, considered excellent quality agricultural land and the most productive for growing crops.
Under the current planning policy solar farms and battery storage areas cannot be built on land classified as BMV as part of the ALC assessment, and as such are largely developed on land that falls into Grade 3b or below which denotes moderate quality agricultural land.
However, the British Energy Strategy, released in April 2022, stated that for ground-mounted solar, the government planned to consult on amending planning policy to safeguard greenfield sites and drive developments to non-protected, lower value land. This has been further augmented by the former Environment Secretary, Ranil Jayawardena (subsequently replaced by Thérèse Coffey) reportedly asking officials to redefine BMV land, to include 3b.
Developers should keep abreast of the changing regulations and identify the potential transition risks associated with current projects in their development pipeline.
How Agricultural Land Classification Surveys Benefit Solar and Battery Developers
ALCs are often required as a part of the feasibility assessment during the predevelopment process, identifying which areas of the site can and cannot be developed. Furthermore, an ALC can inform development decision making by providing an early identification of mitigation measures, such as avoiding key or sensitive habitats e.g. areas of deep peat or watercourses. The results of the ALC can also feed into the landowner’s own strategy for maintaining the land within agricultural rotation as the solar panels can be mounted at such a height that livestock can still graze the land during the lifetime of the solar array.
An ALC will also support the solar / battery development company’s own sustainability targets to meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and working with Countryside England to protect the UK’s Natural Capital.
Wider Benefits of ALCs for Solar and Battery Storage
The Climate Change Committee estimates that 75 to 90% of the UK’s electricity will need to come from solar and wind by 2050. This means the UK must install a minimum of 40GW of solar by 2030 to keep Net Zero on track, tripling current capacity over the next decade, with an average annual installation rate of 2.6GW.
Solar is widely accepted as providing decarbonising power at low costs. This would feed into the UK’s potential to become energy independent and reduce fuel poverty. By carrying out an ALC to enable the development of new solar and battery storage projects, developers drive the UK towards more sustainable consumption and production patterns with regards to energy which contributes to SDGs 1, 7, 12 and 13.
The ALC classification of the quality of soils within proposed development areas enables the protection of the more valuable ecological and economical agricultural land and promotes the sustainable use of these terrestrial ecosystems by reducing the potential for land degradation when seeking to contribute to the development of renewable energy projects, supporting SDG 15.
Furthermore, 72% of UK land is agricultural and 55% of the UK food supply is domestically produced. Ensuring the health of our soils contributes to the livelihood of farmers, the prosperity of our economy and contributes to wider environmental and ecological considerations. An ALC ensures that poor quality soils, which would otherwise be of limited agricultural or economical value, are utilised to develop solar and battery storage sites to provide clean and affordable renewable energy generation. Where solar and battery storage plants are installed, the land can still be grazed by livestock where feasible, adding value to both the landowner and economy.
Regardless of changing policy, an Agricultural Land Classification is a key assessment required prior to developing a solar or battery storage plant, classifying the land grade and determining the suitability of the development from an environmental perspective.
At Roberts Environmental Ltd we have vast experience in carrying out ALCs to aid in the planning process and overall strategy of solar and battery developers.
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