AN MP has described a series of plans being put forward in North Yorkshire to site solar farms on good quality farmland as “bonkers”, saying approving such schemes would see the country swap its energy and food security needs.

Kevin Hollinrake, whose Thirsk and Malton constituency is heavily dependent on agriculture, said while councils were justifying the installation of huge photo-voltaic arrays on greenfield sites on climate change grounds, there remained a range of alternative solutions to increase the supply of renewable energy.

Mr Hollinrake was speaking at North Yorkshire County Council’s Thirsk and Malton constituency committee after councillors raised concerns over plans to develop a solar farm on land graded as “best and most versatile” outside Malton.

The comments come just a week after Richmondshire District Council approved Northumbrian Water’s plan to install nearly 16,000 solar panels across 16.5 hectares of farmland south of the River Tees near Darlington, which had been classed as “best and most versatile”.

Councillors said although national guidance stated developing such farmland should be avoided if possible, the solar farm was needed to tackle climate change.

After the River Tees scheme was approved residents complained on social media saying local food production would cut down on transport emissions and build a more sustainable future.

In recent years planning authorities in the county have approved other proposals to develop high quality farmland, despite concerns being raised over the country’s food security.

Last summer, Hambleton councillors passed a plan for 80 holiday lodges over seven hectares of farmland graded the best and most versatile in Carlton Miniott, near Thirsk, after hearing it would boost the area’s tourism industry.

The constituency committee meeting heard there was a tendency for some people to believe any solar farm scheme was good, but food production was a national priority, particularly given the impact of the war in Ukraine.

Mr Hollinrake said when he wrote to Ryedale District Council over potential plans for solar farm on high quality farmland, the authority had responded highlighting the climate emergency.

He added: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for local authorities to declare a climate emergency. Certainly not in terms of it modifying its own policies around that, as that then changes national planning policy unilaterally.”

The MP said he wanted to see the introduction of national food production targets.

He said: “If you set a target of 75 per cent of the food we eat, what it used to be in the early 1980s, then that’s a counterbalance on pushing agricultural land into energy production.

“We tend to go for easy options, building solar farms on greenfield sites. Why aren’t we sticking more solar panels on every school, every prison, every hospital as that’s where the people are, so the energy distribution should be easier theoretically at least.”

He said he supported North Yorkshire County Council’s ambition as part of devolution to enable communities to produce their own energy needs.

Mr Hollinrake said: “Let 1,000 flowers bloom in this space rather than think it’s all got to be massive centralised schemes.”