Council wants clarity from developer over major solar farm proposal

Mid Suffolk District Council says a developer must provide more clarity around its plan for a ‘nationally significant’ new solar farm in the district

Elmya Energy UK Ltd’s proposals for White Elm Solar Farm centre on a 750-acre site in the Mendlesham, Wickham Skeith and Thwaite area. The solar farm would produce 200MW of electricity, include battery storage, and take up land the equivalent of 425 football pitches.

Because of its generating capacity, it is considered a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP). This means Mid Suffolk District Council will only be a consultee on the proposals, and the national Planning Inspectorate will examine and recommend whether to approve or reject the development. The Secretary of State will make the final decision.
The council says significant, unanswered questions must be addressed. Cllr Andrew Stringer, cabinet member for heritage, planning and infrastructure, said: 

“Mid Suffolk will not have the final say on whether this application is approved. But on behalf of the communities we serve, we do want answers from the developer.
For example, where would this solar farm connect to the grid, and what infrastructure would be required? The developer says they have a secured grid connection from 2031, but where? This is crucial detail. If it is relying on linking to the proposed new row of pylons between Norwich and Tilbury, this doesn’t even have Government approval.”

Elmya Energy is expected to launch details of its plans shortly, followed by a programme of community engagement including non-statutory consultation this autumn and a formal consultation in summer 2025, before submitting a development consent order in summer 2026.
Mid Suffolk is encouraging residents, businesses and communities to engage with the pre-consultation, when it begins, to ensure they can have their say.
Cllr Stringer said:

“There have been a number of solar farm applications in our district - this is the biggest yet – and we want to ensure the voices of local people are heard, and the impacts on our district’s communities, businesses, heritage and environment are clearly and fully understood. 
We will also look at their proposal carefully in the weeks and months ahead before we provide our own response.”

In November, Mid Suffolk set out its expectations of any developers looking to build solar farms or other renewable energy developments in the district, saying it was vital they listened to local concerns and set out the potential community benefits.
The council agreed a position statement recognising that while there are clear environmental and social benefits of providing renewable and low carbon energy, this must be balanced with protecting valuable farmland and heritage.
Cllr Stringer said:

“We do want to see local renewable energy production, which is essential for the country to meet its climate objectives. Our strong preference is ‘roof before rural’ - but national policy does not allow us to compel developers to put solar panels on the roofs of new homes.
Where solar farms are proposed in the countryside, this must be balanced with protecting the best farmland for food production and our beautiful landscapes. We must also be mindful of the cumulative impact of energy developments on communities.”

Last year, Mid Suffolk District Council leader Cllr Andy Mellen called on the Government to provide a clear national framework for the development of solar farms.
He said it was essential to help all local authorities find the right balance between delivering renewable energy, food production and protecting the countryside.
He said:

“As a Green-led council we do want to see renewable local energy production, but what's the right amount? And what, perhaps more importantly, is the amount that our communities will accept? The National Policy Planning Framework guides our planning decisions, but currently does not adequately protect the best and most versatile farmland.”

Mid Suffolk wrote to the Government last year restating its objections to the proposed Norwich to Tilbury overhead line, which would see more pylons cut across the Suffolk countryside. The council urged a more strategic offshore approach, minimising and mitigating harm to Suffolk’s communities and environment.

A solar farm site with inset of Cllr Andrew Stringer