Development Consent Orders (DCOs) are now being used for large solar parks in excess of 50MW – as these solar farms now join the likes of transport, water and waste water projects as considered as “nationally significant infrastructure”. This could potentially see large swathes of the countryside being swallowed up to help the government meet its carbon-reduction targets, by developers obtaining DCOs, which can include compulsory purchase powers.
With no national strategy plan for solar power, the complexities could make negotiations and timelines for compensation confusing, says leading Yorkshire law firm Wilkin Chapman.
Sarah Parker, solicitor at Wilkin Chapman, said: “In May 2020, the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy granted a DCO for a large solar park in Kent and this was the first of its kind, until this point DCOs had not previously been used for solar power projects.
“The fact that this has now passed over into solar developments has opened the floodgates for large scale solar developments across the country to bypass the wishes of the landowner and local councils by obtaining compulsory purchase of the land through DCO’s.”
Mrs Parker said: “DCOs are introducing acquisition powers to solar developers something which they have never had before and something which they are far from practised in dealing with. This has the potential for developers to revisit previous sites disregarded by local councils under the Town and Country Planning Act process.”
The rules around the programme are often not fully understood by all parties and non-specialist lawyers, which leads to confusion. She added: “That is not to say negotiations and agreements for sale cannot be pursued in tandem with the DCO application, and in many cases, this is advised. A DCO cannot be ignored, it will not go away and must be dealt with head on to get the best from the situation that you can.
“Compensation calculations are complex when compulsory purchase powers are in play. Landowners can claim for the price of the land plus severance, which is a payment to reflect the reduced value of the remaining land due to a large farm being split down, though the open market value of the land itself is a factor.”
As well as landowning farmers, tenant farmers can also be affected by DCO’s. The compensation for the tenant farmers is generally the same as that of an owner-occupier, with the exception of the value of land, instead the value of the unexpired lease is considered or, sometimes a rental calculation following a notice to quit. It is therefore important that tenant farmers seek advice early in the process to enable their losses to be considered.
The DCO process requires a specialist skill which differs from those needed to navigate the Town and Country Planning Act process. Experience in this area is key when navigating these turbulent rules with confidence.
Sarah Parker is a specialist agriculture solicitor at Wilkin Chapman, based in Beverley, Yorkshire. You can call Sarah on 01482 398389 or visit www.wilkinchapman.co.uk to find out more.