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The proposed site north of Fairlight Road. Both sites fall within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Council drops plan for solar arrays in the Country Park

Hastings Borough Council has decided to scrap its proposal to install solar arrays at two sites in the Country Park after receiving advice from Natural England. The news was welcomed by the Friends of Hastings Country Park and local Liberal Democrats. Nick Terdre reports.

HBC said today it would not pursue the installation of solar arrays in Hastings Country Park following the outcome of a review of the project and the response from Natural England.

Cllr Kim Forward, the new council leader, and deputy leader Cllr Colin Fitzgerald have begun reviewing all planned major projects, including the solar array proposal, in the light of Covid-19 and the council’s likely new position in terms of budget and officer resource available.

The response it received when it sought advice from Natural England through its discretionary advice service was not encouraging. The wildlife and ecology agency pointed out the difficulties posed for the proposal by the fact that national policy affords the highest protection to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, such as the High Weald AONB in which the two sites are located.

It could also have proved problematic for the nearby Hastings Cliffs to Pett Beach Site of Special Scientific Interest and the Hastings Cliffs Special Area of Conservation.

Natural England also drew attention to the council’s own policies, with which it appeared not to accord well. One of these, SC6, states that suitable sites for renewable energy developments will be identified through the Development Management Plan, but neither of the proposed sites is allocated in the plan.

Still committed to finding solutions 

The council says it remains committed to finding solutions to the significant challenges presented by climate change, as laid out in its recently published climate change strategy. In this it says it will look at other potential sites for ground-mounted solar, including one in Crowhurst and the Pebsham landfill site; for different reasons both of these had previously been discarded.

Other renewable energy schemes, such as rooftop solar and solar car ports, are also being examined as part of the climate change strategy.

“We would like to take the opportunity to thank partners, particularly the Friends of Hastings Country Park, for engaging with us during this time and acting as robust critical friends as we looked to deliver solutions to the climate emergency we all face,” Cllr Forward said.

The Friends have certainly been robustly critical. In March last year they dubbed Hastings Council “reckless” for “refusing to fully consider the available advice from Natural England” before deciding to proceed with feasiblity studies.

Tears of joy

Friends chair Michael Moor welcomed the decision to drop the scheme, saying, “On behalf of all the people who love the Country Park and of future generations I thank, from behind tears of joy, everyone who has helped in this campaign.

“It’s been a campaign not only to protect the landscape but also the biodiversity of the eco-systems of our shared Nature Reserve.

“…industrial development must be in the right place. A Nature Reserve was the wrong place and I am delighted that Hastings Council, under new leadership, has made a sensible rational decision to protect our precious natural environment.”

Andrew Mier, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Southern Rother, and previously chair and vice-chair of Fairlight Parish Council, where he led their opposition to the scheme, also welcomed the news.

Widespread opposition

“The proposal had met with opposition from the Friends of Hastings Country Park, local MPs, the Hastings Green Party and Lib Dems among others,” he said. “It appears the straw which broke the camel’s back was the opinion of Natural England – the sites were in close proximity to the Glens and Site of Special Scientific Interest.

“The arrays, though on farmland, would have been visually intrusive to users of the Country Park – an area set aside for its beauty and natural environment and for the enjoyment and recreation of the public. That, and the effect on the natural environment, clearly outweigh any small contribution to the reduction of CO2 emissions.

“I appreciate Hastings Council’s need to finance the Country Park, an asset of regional as well as local importance. That was undoubtedly one of the motivations behind the scheme… For the future let us hope central government will recognise the importance of the Country Park and allow proper funding without an undue burden on Hastings’ finances.

“We must fight for the preservation of this precious asset – the ‘Jewel in Hastings’ Crown’ – and avoid creeping industrialisation and suburbanisation. We owe that to future generations.”

Posted 23:06 Tuesday, May 12, 2020 In: Energy

3 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Michael Madden

    I’ll second that Penny!

    Comment by Michael Madden — Thursday, May 14, 2020 @ 13:17

  2. Judy Scott

    Hurrah – wonderful news. Made my day.

    Comment by Judy Scott — Thursday, May 14, 2020 @ 11:58

  3. Penny Beale

    Hallelujah!

    Comment by Penny Beale — Thursday, May 14, 2020 @ 09:04

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