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View across the westernmost field proposed for a solar farm towards Place Farm.

View across the westernmost field proposed for a solar farm towards Place Farm.

Solar panels in the Country Park – ecology or politics? II

Hastings Borough Council passed a resolution at the Cabinet meeting on 7 January to spend up to £80,000 investigating whether to install 10 acres of solar panels in two arrays in Hastings Country Park. A third array is proposed for Upper Wilting Farm in Crowhurst. In her second interview on the matter, HOT’s Chandra Masoliver talks to  Michael Moor, chair of The Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve, which has strenuously opposed the development.

CM: Are you in favour of installing solar panels?

MM: In recent years the UK has substantially increased its generation of electricity from sustainable sources, especially from offshore wind farms. We are now familiar with the view of the turbines from, for example, Brighton, Margate and North Norfolk beaches. This achievement is to be applauded. We are also familiar with solar panels and these are entirely suitable when fixed to roofs, in industrial areas and on brownfield sites.

Hastings Council has decided do something quite different. Their plan is to build 10 acres of ground mounted solar panels with their associated equipment and, no doubt, surrounded by security fencing in Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve.

What do you think of HBC’s chosen site in the Country Park, and should they be more consultative as to suitable sites?

In essence the Country Park is an area of open land which in historic planning terms provides a breather for the public between Hastings and Fairlight. But it’s much more than that. It’s designated as a Local Nature Reserve, within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the sites chosen for the 10 acres of solar panels by the Council are directly adjacent to a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.

We all, including Hastings Council, have to operate within planning rules that are set both nationally and locally.

Michael Moor.

Michael Moor.

The Country Park is described in the opening words of the Council’s own Development Management plan, adopted only in 2015, as being “Hastings’ area of true countryside – and it is a very special area of countryside. … This is an area where the natural environment is of paramount importance”.  So, whilst The Friends of The Country Park Nature Reserve appreciate the importance of renewable energy, this is the most inappropriate place one could imagine for an industrial installation of this sort.

In terms of consultation there has been none. I am a member of the Council’s Management Forum for the Country Park and sit alongside councillors to discuss issues related to the Country Park. We meet three times a year and the last meeting was on 9 November 2018. The very eagle-eyed will have noticed that the Business Case presented to the Cabinet was first circulated to Council officers on 1 November 2018.

I did not learn of the proposal to site 10 acres of solar panels in the Country Park until the Cabinet papers were issued on 1 January. Since then no councillor or officer has contacted me.

Sensibly, on 7 January 2019, whilst approving the recommendation to go ahead and develop the proposal, Hastings Cabinet did finally decide to talk to Natural England.

What is your opinion of Amber Rudd launching an appeal? Is this turning into a political issue?

Your question suggests that there is something inherently wrong with this being a political issue. I don’t find anything wrong with the majority party (Labour) on the Council putting up a proposal and the minority party (Conservative) pointing out what’s wrong with the recommendation. Amber Rudd’s petition was a part of the process of the Conservatives trying to be an effective opposition.

The discussion at the Cabinet meeting was quite respectful and mainly focused on relevant issues.

But, there are three things that are wrong about the political process that we have seen.

First, the Hastings community needs to be confident about the Council’s motives. It is significant that the report to the Cabinet by the Council’s Director of Operational Services is set in the context of the Council’s ability “to make a significant contribution to the objectives of the Income Generation strategy”, not of environmental objectives. Indeed, the report itself does not make it clear that two of the three proposed sites are actually in the Country Park.

We all support the idea of generating energy from renewable sources for the benefit of the environment. But this was not the main objective of the Council until the plan began to attract significant opposition from local people. Then the Council began to apply a veneer of greenwash to cover its real motives for the plan, that of income generation from an industrial scale plant.

Second, we all understand that, in these difficult times for local authority finances, the Council needs to generate extra funds. But it owes it to its electors to respect its own and national planning policies. Householders have to follow the Council’s planning policies and the Council should lead the community by doing the same.

Third, the political process should make it possible for the Council to learn from its mistakes. Your readers may well be aware of what I call the Rocklands fiasco where a totally inappropriate building was allowed directly overlooking Ecclesbourne Glen and the East Hill which are both within the Country Park. The Council should treat its stewardship of the Country Park, a vital community asset, with greater sensitivity.

The Friends of Hastings Country Park will continue their non-party political work fighting for our aim: “To protect, promote and enhance the natural environment of the Reserve, and to encourage others to join us in this work, so that the value of the Reserve and its wildlife are protected for future generations”.

Join us!

 

Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve website.

 

Posted 11:09 Wednesday, Jan 16, 2019 In: Energy

8 Comments


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  1. Richard

    Gary Wood – you are so right about the Milking Parlour…. another disastrous HBC project! I’m sorry you don’t like what others have said on here (and in the Observer, and on HIP, and on BBC Sussex, and in the petition, etc.) but that is the whole point of debate – we all have a right to give our views. Completely agree we need more revenue generation for the town, but we need a bit more imagination too.

    Comment by Richard — Tuesday, Jan 22, 2019 @ 18:01

  2. Gary Wood

    James – 10 acres, not 10 hectares. That’s about 4 hectares. The initial business case is available on the council’s website under Cabinet Agendas https://hastings.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s30651/High%20level%20business%20case%2007_01_19.pdf

    Hastings Resident – name another Council-owned location of 10 acres. (Pebsham landfill site is out because it’s still settling, and unstable.)

    Richard – revenue generation for HBC is revenue for the town. It supports things like park maintenance. Alexandra Park for example is much more used by Hastings residents than the handful of people who walk past those fields. The Milking Parlour is already an eyesore there, but most walkers are rapidly past it all and into the woods. Sure, there’s a debate about aesthetics, but “them and us” assumptions just muddy the water.

    Mrs D – you do not speak for local people.

    Comment by Gary Wood — Monday, Jan 21, 2019 @ 12:20

  3. Gary Wood

    HOT has every right to adopt its de facto left/green/anarchist editorial policy, but when this turns into shoddy journalism, it can’t be above criticism. Coverage of the PV array proposals has consisted of an article by a Conservative Councillor (against) and an interview with the Chair of the FOHCP (against).

    No word from the Council or a Labour politician, no summary of the Cabinet papers (which do make it clear that the Country Park is a proposed site, by the way). No assessment of what the level of ecological damage might actually be.

    The fields in question are currently arable or grazing, and have been assessed as being of low ecological and archaeological value. I would guess that whatever habitat value they have would be around the edges, which need not be greatly affected.

    Is it any wonder that the council doesn’t do non-statutory consultation, if doing so just sparks a lot of biased, uninformed and unproductive council-bashing? HOT may be able to help debate, but not by allowing itself to simply be a mouthpiece for reactionaries.

    Comment by Gary Wood — Monday, Jan 21, 2019 @ 11:55

  4. James

    I totally applaud all efforts to increase green energy. The big question for me is why the Council feel that Hastings Country Park (An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) is the best choice of location for 10 hectares of solar panels, as opposed to somewhere more suitable. I would love to see the analysis or study that supports this choice.

    Comment by James — Sunday, Jan 20, 2019 @ 13:32

  5. Hastings Resident

    Excellent article and explains very well why the Country Park is not the right location for acres of solar panels. It’s planned installation site is in clear view from many points in the park and is right next to a SSSI. Most people, myself included, understand the need for more clean energy but installing solar panels in the middle of a Country Park seems like saving one environment at the expense of another. There are many places panels could go that would be much more appropriate and less impactful to our open spaces. The park is supposed to be an open space that everyone in the town can come and enjoy, walk their dog and take in the beautiful views without a brutal industrial installation right in the middle of it.

    Comment by Hastings Resident — Saturday, Jan 19, 2019 @ 18:33

  6. Richard

    Rod – you are absolutely right that we need to do all we can to promote renewable energy. There are many ways to do this within Hastings and St Leonards and Energise Sussex Coast have proved that such schemes are both possible and profitable. But to build on green fields is not in any way protecting the planet for your grandchildren – the Country park was given to the people of Hastings for the people of Hastings, not as a source of revenue generation for HBC (that’s what this scheme is, nothing else). So let’s all get behind renewable energy schemes for the Borough that are properly thought through, imaginative and positive rather than destructive.

    Comment by Richard — Saturday, Jan 19, 2019 @ 16:59

  7. Rod

    Every opportunity should be taken to provide solar panels including this one. My reason are that the IPCC Report on Climate Change https://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf gives us 12 years to fix global warming so there’s no time to keep looking for more sites. I’ve also 5 young grandchildren & I’ll do what I can to keep the planet safe for their future

    Comment by Rod — Friday, Jan 18, 2019 @ 15:23

  8. Ms.Doubtfire

    Excellent article. Sets out very clearly why these solar panels should have no place in our Country Park – but will Chowney and his pals listen? Highly unlikely – they never listen to public opinion but this time they may have gone a step too far. The Mad Hatters Tea Party may have met its match as local people are very unhyappy with these proposals. And it is doubtful if Natural England would sanction such a development.
    This council has allowed far too many inappropriate developments in the Country Park – the infamous bunker being just one and the continuing felling and pruning of trees.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Wednesday, Jan 16, 2019 @ 13:12

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