The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to reject a proposal to install a solar farm and battery storage system on tenanted farmland in Old Malton, North Yorkshire.

It has also written to members of the North Yorkshire Strategic Planning Committee asking them to vote against the proposed application at a meeting on October 10.

44.52ha of the 52.86ha earmarked for the development are currently being farmed under a tenancy agreement.

The land has been farmed by the Sturdy family for decades and their tenancy is regulated under the terms of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986.

“It would be a travesty if this application was allowed to succeed,” TFA chief executive, George Dunn, said.

“Acceptance of this application would go against current public policy on food security, maintaining best and most versatile agricultural land, improving landscape and biodiversity, and protecting the resilience of the tenanted sector of agriculture.

“Notwithstanding the security of tenure referred to above and the legitimate expectation that Mr. and Mrs. Sturdy would have had to enjoy that security into the future, should the Fitzwilliam Trust Corporation prove successful in its attempt to gain planning consent for change of use under this application, Mr. and Mrs. Sturdy would face an incontestable notice to quit of the land subject to their tenancy,” he added.

Solar farm in Old Malton

The Sturdy family has been campaigning to “save” their tenanted land for months, primarily via their website and social media channels under the name ‘Save Old Malton Countryside’. These explain the situation and encourage people to submit objections.

The planning permission has 499 objections, and 42 supporting comments.

In their own objection document to Ryedale District Council, the family said:

“The application for the new solar farm and battery storage, if permitted, will have life-long and life-changing consequences for us and our children,” they said in their objection document to the proposal.

“My grandfather, father and myself have farmed the land at Eden Farm for almost 70 years. In 1971, the year in which I was born, my father, John Sturdy, took on an Agricultural Holdings Act Tenancy with FTC,” Robert Sturdy said.

“This tenancy is a three generation tenancy of which I am the second generation. It is a tenancy for my lifetime and for my children’s, should either of them wish to pursue a career in farming.

“I would not want all this hard work and investment, which has seen very significant improvements to the farm and the environment, to be lost as a result of the application.

“I am a long-standing protected tenant and should be protected from the consequences of a non-agricultural planning permission particularly where the ability to obtain planning permission is much easier for solar development than other forms of development, as it is viewed as a ‘temporary’ development in planning terms.”

Harmony Energy submitted a planning application for a solar farm and battery energy storage system to Ryedale District Council on February 26, 2023.

On its website, the company has said: “We recognise the financial impact the development would have on the tenant.

“This is why we are contributing half the annual compensation package being made available – a substantial figure which is payable annually index-linked for 40 years. This is multiple times the value of statutory compensation.”

In a statement to Agriland, it added that the proposed development cannot be located elsewhere, “as for large-scale solar farms to connect to the national grid, there must be a technically and financially viable connection available, with grid capacity and Northern Powergrid having been secured and a nearby substation being the only suitable local one”.

“Renewable energy is critical in creating a sustainable future for everyone, ensuring the future security of the UK’s energy supply, whilst helping to meet global targets to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change,” it added.

“They aren’t only beneficial for the environment, but the more unsubsidised developments we can create, the more they will help reduce energy bills for all, at a time when energy bills have increased dramatically primarily due to increasing fossil fuel costs.

“We are proud to be a Yorkshire-based energy firm, delivering renewable energy, providing benefits and supporting high-skilled jobs. These projects will create further employment and assist the UK’s net zero and energy security ambitions.”