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Sheep grazing in the westernmost field under consideration by the council for hosting a solar farm.

Sheep grazing in the westernmost field in the Country Park under consideration by the council for hosting a solar farm.

Feasibility studies for solar farms are dubbed “reckless”

The Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve have condemned Hastings Borough Council’s “reckless” refusal to listen to advice from Natural England on their proposal to build two solar farms in the Country Park. But the council leader still says that an adverse report from the agency could cause the project to be dropped. Nick Terdre reports.

The Friends chair, Michael Moor, told HOT he had received confirmation from Marcus Lawler, HBC’s income generation manager, that the feasibility studies costing up to £80,000 which were approved at the Cabinet meeting of 7 January were now to be carried out.

During the meeting council leader Peter Chowney had proposed an amendment that Natural England  should be consulted before the feasibility studies were actioned, and that if the wildlife and ecology agency advised against the plan, it should be dropped.

The amended motion, which was approved with the support of the Labour majority and opposed by the Tory minority, also delegated authority for development of the detailed business case, of which the feasibility studies are part, to the director of Operational Services, Simon Hubbard, in consultation with the council leader.

The Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve say they have “dubbed Hastings Council ‘reckless’ in refusing to fully consider the available advice from Natural England before spending money on a business study for two solar power installations in the Country Park…”

“That Council decision was made dependent on it first getting advice from Natural England, as the national regulator for protected landscapes such as the Country Park.”

Insufficient information

In their response to the council, Natural England say they currently have “insufficient information…to provide a substantive response…”

“…it’s what we thought they’d say, as it’s what they’d always say,” Cllr Chowney told HOT. “The council needs to get studies done on the proposal, then they’ll look at those and give their opinion. They don’t rule out solar arrays next to SSSIs [Sites of Special Scientific Interest], but they won’t give their approval until they know more about the detail.”

“In effect, we got their response, which was to ask us to commission studies on the ecological and environmental impact of the solar arrays.”

The matter was due to come back to the Cabinet in the summer, he added, when the results of the  studies and Natural England’s verdict would be available.

“…they won’t automatically say no, they want more information based on environmental consultant assessments before they give an opinion,” Cllr Chowney said.  “But if they opposed them on the grounds that they would damage the SSSI, then we wouldn’t proceed.”

Telling extracts

The Friends point out that Natural England’s response, published on the council website, includes some telling extracts from the government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which says for example that for areas like the Country Park, “This landscape should be afforded the highest status of protection in relation to the conservation and enhancement of landscape and scenic beauty,” and that “All development within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty should be limited in scale and extent.”

An application for the development of Mill Farm to the north of the Country Park but also within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty [AONB] was recently refused, as Mr Moor pointed out, on the grounds that it would “result in a mass of building and suburbinisation [sic] that would harm to [sic] the character and appearance of the area and the High Weald” AONB. In support of refusal the decision referred to the same paragraphs of the NPPF as quoted by Natural England.

The agency also recommended that HBC make use of its Discretionary Advice Service to help it take appropriate account of environmental considerations, which the council is doing, and that it should obtain a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment, which is part of the feasibility studies.

Tory councillor Andy Patmore, who drew attention at the January Cabinet meeting to Natural England’s concerns over the problems solar arrays cause for nearby wildlife, questioned the council’s wisdom in pushing ahead with the proposal.

The areas shaded red show the proposed locations of the solar farms in the Country Park (source: Business Case: Ground Mounted Solars Arrays, report to Cabinet).

The areas shaded red show the proposed locations of the solar farms in the Country Park (source: Business Case: Ground Mounted Solar Arrays, report to Cabinet).

Uphill task

“The Council is facing a huge uphill task if it is to get this development through planning,” he told HOT. “The only reason that HBC are entertaining this development is because it ‘hopes’ to make a profit.

“I would hope HBC reconsider spending money on these proposals. The amount of officer time that will be spent on consultations and planning will be enormous (see Rocklands, The Archery Ground) and there is every possibility that any decision to build on the Country Park will end up in judicial review. The Council and its staff can ill afford to get embroiled in what could be one of the town’s most contentious planning applications ever!

“I therefore call upon the Leader of the Council to dismiss these plans and move on. We mustn’t waste our time, energy and money trying to deliver profit-making schemes that will have a detrimental impact on our bit of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Country Park which we have spent years trying to restore and protect.”

A 2017 report commissioned by the council on sustainable energy options in the borough found little scope for large-scale ground-mounted solar. It identified primarily several sites on the Pebsham landfill, which the council now says are too unstable, and the playing fields at Ingleside in Hollington where Hastings United football club are planning to move.

The study excluded national parks and AONBs on the grounds that their purpose is to protect designated landscapes, but the council has clearly taken a different approach.

 

Posted 13:45 Wednesday, Mar 13, 2019 In: Energy

5 Comments


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT
  1. Bolshie

    look folks it is really just another classic illustration of how this council and its councillors will do whatever they want. And if you criticise them as say Cllr Patmore rightfully has, you will earn the title of being “Vexatious.”
    This property shopping spree the council has undertaken of buying retail units and the Aldi site. Who can tell me how the decisions were made to purchase the sights – Cllr Chowney for one and some other unknown councillors appear to have given those the green light.
    With this Country Park issue, I reiterate what I have said before following planning articles in the Hottie. Nothing is sacred or protected with HBC. Any piece of space I the borough is fair game to them to do something and if its not concreting it, such as the intention with the old Lido, its Solar Panels in the Country Park.
    I see mention of Mr Hollox the planning inspector who oversaw the last Local Plan hearings.
    It was this fine man who realised the significance of Robsack Meadow as a bio diverse natural piece of land and saved it from the claws of the HBC who were gunning to concrete that over and build apartments.
    All I can say is the best of luck to The Friends of the Country Park on this one.

    Comment by Bolshie — Friday, Mar 15, 2019 @ 16:56

  2. Ms.Doubtfire

    I think Councillor Peter Chowney said something recently about ‘reviewing’ the Local Plan. So long as he does not try to change anything which the Independent Local Government Inspector recommended we should not worry too much…..but…..going by past experience we need to keep a very wary eye on this council and ANY so called reviews. The Local Plan was ratified by this council and that should be that. Can we trust these people? In my honest opinion – nope – you cannot.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Thursday, Mar 14, 2019 @ 16:03

  3. Keith Piggott (Icarus)

    Richard, Friends of the Country Park, This has been a long time in gestation from Mr Hollox’s public enquiry in April 2013 when HBC commissioned external consultants producing generic -fit any town- Reports warned of HBC need to reconsider local SSI’s also AONBs for wind farm sits; but entirely ignored Hastings’ potential for tidal and wave energies. I was moved to make 23 submissions on separate issues in proposed Development Management Plan.

    I copy submissions relating to energy: ID:5337, and ID: 5339. If these be ‘lessons’ they were not learned.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Representation ID: 5337 ‘EVIDENCE BASE’ — includes Element Energy Ltd, contribution, lobbying “Renewable and Low Carbon Energy Development Study”, (Summary p.11/24, §2.4.1)].

    Element Energy cites impossibility to deliver capacity, “unless HBC
    reassesses the restrictions on siting large wind turbines in SSSIs and AONBs and safeguards specific sites with great potential for siting of MW scale wind (see section 1.3) in the first instance.”

    First thinking ‘inside the box’; a coffin for Hastings’ ecology! Low blade-pressures ruptures lungs of bats/birds. Appendices 5.1/5.2, identify potential wind-farms, signalling opportunites for capital- reprieving Hastings’ forfeited ancient woodlands?

    Changes necessary to make Plan legally compliant or sound:
    1) revise “Evidence Base” reliance on MW wind farms
    2) deny inferred reassement of SSSIs and AONBs.
    3) reaffirm inviobility of Hastings’ SSSIs AONB’s
    4) confirm awareness of adverse effect of wind-farms on ecology wildlife (soft-tissue ruptures by blade-pressure drops).
    5) withdraw wind-site maps (insider-trading).

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Representation ID: 5339 ‘POLICY SC6’ Development Management Plan, Duty to Co-operate, p.16/46, “Potential area for Renewable Energy generation”, §5.9, §5.10.

    Only possible intention is wind farm following BHLR route. Reliance on wind farms flawed, ecology suffers too; instead, Hastings should lead way; ‘at home’ guaranteed renewable energy sources; i.e. “Wave Energy” generation, and/or “Tidal Energy” generation.

    Absence of forethought evident in HBC ‘Evidence Base’, where Element Energy Ltd. offer NO data on Wave nor Tidal renewable energy. Is HBC just flying a pet green-kite; or have MW wind-sites been bought already?

    Change u consider necessary to make the Plan sound:
    1) Economics of wind-farms in the news – beyond my expertise, but
    enough to concern investment.
    2) Hastings has renewable and constant “Tidal Energy” also reliable “Wave Energy” at its doorstep, literally. That is the future.
    3) Invest in the future, not in wind-subsidies.
    4) Connect with research into Tidal/Wave energy, commission feasibility study for Hastings!

    Make what use you will of these – but I warn you the person named
    once issued his blunt Rejection of a level 3 complaint before I even had posted my level 3 Appeal pleadings. KP

    Comment by Keith Piggott (Icarus) — Thursday, Mar 14, 2019 @ 11:25

  4. Ms.Doubtfire

    Excellent story on this on BBC South East news tonight – with Cllr. Peter Chowney refusing to acknowledge or accept the fact that the Country Park is not the place to put any solar panels. The computerised mock up shown by the BBC programme illustrated the horrendous appearance of these panels – this has to be one of the more crazy proposals by this feckless council. They have to be stopped. There is no way their plan can be sanctioned.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Wednesday, Mar 13, 2019 @ 20:32

  5. Richard

    Well done to the Friends of the Country Park and to Cllr Patmore for sticking up for what is right. This is a money making scheme pure and simple, but Cllr Chowney doesn’t have the guts to be honest with the people of Hastings. We all want more sustainable energy, of course we do, and there are lots of imaginative ideas out there to deliver it here in our town – speak to Energise Sussex Coast for a start Cllr Chowney! But industrialising this unspoiled area which means such a lot to so many locals, and causing extensive ecological damage at the same time, is not the way to do it. Wake up HBC – if you read the full Natural England advice it is clear that they will refuse this reckless scheme at planning. Stop now before you waste yet more of our money… please.

    Comment by Richard — Wednesday, Mar 13, 2019 @ 17:46

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