Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Kay Green, with a book produced by her publishing company

Kay Green with a book produced by her publishing house, Early Works Press.

Solar Panels in the Country Park – ecology or politics? III

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) passed a resolution at the Cabinet meeting on 7 January to spend up to £80,000 investigating whether to install three solar farms, two in Hastings Country Park and one in Upper Wilting Farm in Crowhurst. In this third interview HOT’s Chandra Masoliver asks Kay Green, publisher, bookseller and blogger, her opinion of this proposal, and the public’s reaction to it. Kay is a active member of the local Labour Party, currently helping to set up the Labour Women’s Forum to increase the party’s involvement with local and community-based campaigns.

CM: Are you in favour of installing solar panels?

KG: That’s actually quite a hard question to answer. I suspect many solar panels shouldn’t be necessary. I suspect if we’d had a government that took all our environmental and energy problems seriously, we would be using less energy, using it more efficiently, and we’d be a long, long way ahead of where we are today. We’d be using things like tidal and wind energy, but unfortunately our government appears to be made up of people who benefit, one way or another, from fossil fuel companies, and people who simply don’t realise how urgently we need to change.

But, as things stand, I appreciate that Hastings needs to try out every conceivable idea that might either reduce our shameful dependency on dirty fuel or reduce the fuel bills for a constituency where many people are really struggling, and many more see their household finances teetering at the ‘just hanging on’ stage.

One of the problems of having a government of millionaires is that they simply don’t notice things like the frustration of over-charged tenants who can’t use their roofs to cut energy bills because their roofs aren’t their own property.

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

Oh my – I’m glad you asked that question, because it’s precisely the question hundreds of people have been agonising over in pubs and social media, and reading in the local papers, and it’s the wrong question. HBC have not chosen a site, and they have no intention of doing anything whatsoever without a consultation.

I went to the last HBC Cabinet meeting for several reasons, one of which was to hear the council officer’s report into what they thought might be feasible and economically viable. Let me underline this – the officer who presented the report did not say it was a good idea – his job is to give accurate information to councillors, and what he said was that, of the very limited further possibilities for solar power, these sites were the most feasible.

Nor were any councillors ready to accept that as a go-ahead – not even the “cautious” go-ahead claimed by Hugh Sullivan’s article in Hasting Independent Press (HIP, 11.01.2019). What that Cabinet meeting did was to agree to give themselves some time, and a budget, in order to consult with technical and environmental experts, and to conduct a consultation with local people to find out what people’s priorities and red lines were.

In the HIP article Hugh Sullivan suggests that Council Leader Peter Chowney’s view is that “the only constraint should be economic viability”, but it is the government’s financial and legal restrictions which rule out anything but commercially viable schemes. Similarly, we do not, as Sullivan suggested, have to rely on an “implication” that the Council would not proceed against environmental advice – in fact Chowney stated that if Natural England came back with a ‘no’ on environmental grounds, that would be the end of it.

I am astonished to see that three of the people who were at the Cabinet meeting have written to the Hastings and St Leonards Observer (18.01.2019) as though there was a decision to place solar panels in the Country Park without consultation or concern for the environment. Andy Patmore and Rob Lee, the Conservative councillors at the Cabinet meeting, both wrote clearly that they didn’t want the solar panels, but offered no viable alternatives. They were also adamant that they didn’t want money and time spent on those consultations – so they didn’t want to be consulted? So why are they now complaining?

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

It most definitely is. Amber Rudd is in a very precarious position in Hastings, not just because her comfortable majority has disappeared as the government has got more unpopular, but also as a member of the party that’s responsible for a whole series of new government regulations that have sabotaged our council’s more progressive environmental decisions. She would have to be very creative to make herself appear anything but an obstacle to green thinking.

I really do think this is a class issue from a financial point of view – for example, I remember going to Amber Rudd’s office a long time ago with a contingent of people talking to her about tax justice. She just could not see what the problems were. One of the issues that came up was a government rule-change that had put a stop to schemes for building energy-efficient houses. Rudd’s reason for this was that “some builders didn’t like the restrictions”. She saw only an obstacle to developers’ profits. She said it didn’t matter because people could buy their own solar panels to put on their roofs, and could get government money to do so.

I pointed out that only those who owned their own houses could benefit from this, and she just didn’t agree – and now the government has ended the feed-in tariff anyway, so everyone’s lost the benefit of that option. It really doesn’t look good for the Conservatives, while the Labour Party has a good, businesslike commitment to green energy, infrastructure and jobs.

Posted 18:45 Wednesday, Jan 23, 2019 In: Energy