The proposed Harmony Energy solar farm is clearly going to be a contentious issue, with many people already taking a determined stance at the extremes of the argument – for or against.

Once the planning application is submitted to Ryedale District Council (RDC), that’s certainly not the way it will be decided. An experienced, professional planning officer will have to gather all the facts and evidence, including extensive documentation and assessments from the applicant, along with comments of either support or objection received as part of the obligatory public consultation. This evidence will be measured against both national and local planning policy to weigh up the balance of pros and cons in terms of flood risk, environmental and visual impact and perceived benefits and harms. However, only valid planning criteria can be taken into account as the officer takes all that evidence in the round, to give a recommendation of approval or refusal, which will go forward to a planning committee of 10 councillors to make the final decision. They will listen to a verbal report from the officer and, alongside the written report and supporting evidence, decide whether they agree with the final recommendation. All this information will be publicly available on the RDC planning portal.

If approved, there will be an extensive list of conditions the applicant must comply with before, during and after construction. If refused, there must be sound reasons, based on policy, and the applicant may appeal against the decision. An independent planning inspector will then decide whether they agree that the original decision was fair and balanced with regard to the evidence and policy, so the refusal could be confirmed or overturned, possibly with all costs of the inquiry charged to the council.

Any reasonable person will realise that recent world events, such as Brexit, the war in Ukraine, climate change and rampant inflation mean both food and energy security and supply are both vitally important. We cannot afford to take our top quality farmland out of food production, but neither can we rely on increasingly costly and polluting fossil fuels for our energy needs, which makes this a very complex and difficult decision. It may even highlight shortcomings in current national policies.

Cllr Mike Potter, Pickering