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Warren Glen, where the council has identified alternative potential sites for solar arrays (photo: FHCPNR).

One of the proposed sites for solar panels above Warren Glen (photo: FHCPNR).

Friends take case against solar farms to Natural England

The Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve have continued their campaign against the council’s proposal to install solar farms in the park with a detailed letter to the conservation watchdog Natural England. Meanwhile the council has made arrangements for feasibility studies to be tendered. Nick Terdre reports.

Hastings Borough Council are consulting Natural England about the plan to install two sets of solar arrays in the Country Park. Given their location in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and close to a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the agency’s view is supposed to be decisive for the continued progress of the project.

In May the council reported that it had added two fields above Warren Glen as potential alternative sites to the two originally identified above Fairlight Glen.

The Friends of Hastings Country Park, which have criticised the scheme since it was revealed in January, have written a detailed letter – 13 pages, including appendices, maps and illustrations – in the name of their chair, Michael Moor, to Natural England explaining their opposition.

Among concerns listed by the Friends is that “the Council has failed to give proper consideration to the factors they are required to consider under National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) guidance, particularly as regards the choice of land and the visual impact, in the context of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”

“The Council appears to regard the renewable energy factor as being so vital to the public interest that it outweighs all other considerations,” it states.

The view to Place Farm across one of the Fairlight Glen fields.

The view to Place Farm across one of the Fairlight Glen fields.

Viewshed analyses

The letter takes issue with claims by various council representatives that the solar arrays will not be visible from other parts of the Country Park – its own viewshed analyses, provided as an annex, show that both sites are visible from numerous points in the Country Park. It would expect the council to obtain a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment to provide further objective evidence of this, it says.

The letter further states that the council appears to be acting inconsistently with a number of its own planning policies intended to protect the natural environment of the Country Park Nature Reserve – “indeed, the Council’s own Sustainable Energy Options Study of 2017 excluded the Country Park from consideration for ground mounted solar arrays because it is a protected environment,” it points out.

“Since the proposed sites are within SSSI [Site of Special Scientific Importance] Impact Risk Zones, we would wish to ensure that an environmental impact assessment is properly commissioned, since we have certain concerns already about water run-off and land contamination and there may well be other risks to flora and fauna in the SSSI and SAC [Special Area of Conservation],” it says.

Noting Natural England’s own conclusion in a 2017 publication on the impact of solar farms on birds, bats and general ecology – that when considering site selection for utility scale solar developments it is generally agreed that protected areas should be avoided – it expresses the hope that “Natural England will require the Council to obtain an Environmental Impact Assessment in the present case.”

The letter also points out that residential planning applications in and around the Country Park have consistently been refused on the basis that they would be contrary not only to provisions in the NPPF, but also to The High Weald AONB Management Plan 2019-24 and a number of the council’s own policies incorporated in the Hastings Local Plan. “It would seem that the Council doesn’t intend to be so rigorous with regard to its own present proposal,” it concludes.

Diagram showing sites identified for solar arrays; the original sites above Fairlight Glen outlined in blue, and alternative sites outlined in purple (map: Crown Copyright).

Diagram showing sites identified for solar arrays; the original sites above Fairlight Glen outlined in blue, and alternative sites outlined in purple (map: Crown Copyright).

In a statement Mr Moor commented: “We find the inconsistencies in the Council’s approach to this plan breathtaking. In the search for a bit of extra income, they seem ready to ride roughshod over their own policies for protecting the precious environment in the Country Park and to disregard their previous planning decisions against development there.

“The Country Park is part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is an officially designated Local Nature Reserve which contains a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. We hope that Natural England will now use its authority to pull the Council up short on its reckless proposals for such a sensitive site.”

Role for Public Power Solutions

When the council first approached Natural England for comment, it was told that there was insufficient information for the agency to form an opinion. Their response prompted the council to move ahead with the feasibility studies, in order to provide more information. They have contracted Public Power Solutions (“a wholly-owned subsidiary of Swindon Borough Council offering innovative solutions for public sector organisations in the areas of Power and Waste”) to manage the tendering process.

Four studies are planned:

  • Heritage impact assessment
  • Landscape and visual impact assessment
  • Preliminary ecological appraisal
  • Agricultural land classification assessment.

As part of its brief PPS will also request advice from Natural England regarding the feasibility studies, review the studies and present a written summary and make recommendations as to next steps. In addition they will undertake a high-level review of the sites, including an appraisal of technical constraints and initial planning considerations such as topography.

The results of the feasibility studies need to be in hand before the council can formally consult with Natural England through their Discretionary Advice Service, a spokesperson told HOT.

The Friends’ intervention will hopefully prompt Natural England to marshall its forces to undertake a proper assessment of the proposed project. Its ability to function normally was put in doubt by its incoming chair and former Friends of the Earth activist Tony Juniper, who said this month that the slashing of its budget in half over five years had left him with a “massively depleted” organisation.

“We’ve got no monitoring capacity on the SSSIs,” he told the Guardian. “Our ability to give advice to planning applications and our works on landscapes, national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty is cut now to pretty much nothing.”

 

The Friends’ letter can be seen on their website.

See also Feasibility studies for solar farms are dubbed “reckless”

 

Posted 12:00 Monday, Jul 1, 2019 In: Energy

4 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Ms.Doubtfire

    There is drastic and there is foolhardy. This proposal is foolhardy and has no place in our country park..

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Tuesday, Jul 9, 2019 @ 09:08

  2. Eye on the ball

    I can see hundreds, if not thousands, of roof tops in Hastings that do not have solar panels. I walk along the windy sea front and look out to sea and see no wind turbines until i get to Brighton. Why is the council even thinking if damaging our country oark when there are umpteen ways of generating power that have not been exploited?

    Comment by Eye on the ball — Tuesday, Jul 9, 2019 @ 08:20

  3. Ms.Doubtfire

    The first thing the council should have done is to consult with Natural England…what is the point in spending public monies on feasibility studies if Natural England give the thumbs down for this unwelcome project? Cart befor the horse comes to mind here as it does with so many projects initiated by this council.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Monday, Jul 8, 2019 @ 08:03

  4. Alison

    We are facing a climate emergency and the possible death of our planet as we know it. The objections above seem to be fiddling while Rome burns. The Friends of Hastings country park are not suggesting any alternative. How is Hastings supposed to become carbon neutral if no drastic initiatives are taken now?

    Comment by Alison — Thursday, Jul 4, 2019 @ 11:31

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