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The wishes of objectors who brought placards to the Cabinet meeting in January last year saying, “No solar farms in our nature reserve” and “Preserve our reserve” have now been realised.

Warm welcome for decision to drop solar farms proposal

Hastings Borough Council’s decision to drop its proposal to install solar farms in the Country Park has been widely welcomed. HOT has now received comments from Tory councillor Andy Patmore and the Green Party’s Julia Hilton. Nick Terdre reports.

“I was relieved to hear common sense had prevailed and the idea of placing a solar panel array in the Country Park has been scrapped,” Cllr Patmore told HOT. “I consistently highlighted the error of spending huge sums of public money on consultants when rudimentary research of Natural England’s advice and our own planning policy meant this ludicrous idea was unlikely to pass any reasoned scrutiny.

“When you read the response from Natural England it almost mirrors everything the Friends of the Country Park highlighted and what was said at Cabinet in January 2019.”

Utter disbelief

“It is with utter disbelief, that in a time when the current administration complain so bitterly about a lack of government funding, they spent circa £30k on consultancy to tell them this was not a viable option.”

When the proposal was put before that Cabinet meeting, it was Patmore who pointed out that Natural England had published advice against siting solar arrays in protected areas because of the adverse effect on wildlife and the ecology.

In an article for HOT he explained that rather than the motion proposing to spend £80,400 on feasibility studies which was put before the Cabinet, it would be better, and considerably cheaper, to consult Natural England and see what they had to say about the idea.

Land south of the Milking Parlour, one of the two Country Park sites which HBC finally settled on for a solar farm installation.

As a result of his intervention, Cllr Peter Chowney, who proposed the motion, also proposed an amendment that the first step should be to consult Natural England; if they came out against the scheme, it would be dropped, he said. The motion was passed with only Patmore and his fellow Tory councillor Rob Lee opposing it.

When first consulted Natural England’s response was that the council had provided them with insufficient information to make an assessment. The council then commissioned feasibility studies by Public Power Solutions, the results of which were delivered to the agency and assessed under its paid discretionary   advice service.

Not the right place

Hastings Green Party, which at the time of the motion authorising feasibility studies had expressed “serious reservations about the siting of 10 acres of solar panels in our much-loved Hastings Country Park,” also welcomed the decision to scrap the plan. “Hastings Green Party are delighted that the council has finally seen sense and realised that the country park was never going to be the right place for an industrial scale solar farm,” secretary Julia Hilton told HOT.

“Many conversations on the doorstep prior to the Covid 19 lockdown confirmed that many people understand the urgent need for new sources of locally owned renewable energy but expressed dismay that the council would consider such a precious landscape asset as a suitable site.

“I would like to know how much of the £80,000 allocated for feasibility studies was spent pursuing this folly. On reading the response from Natural England it seems that if the council had bothered to refer to its own planning policies it  could have come to its own conclusions that trying to build a solar farm in a site of outstanding natural beauty would have a highly adverse affect on the landscape and saved itself the expense of employing yet more consultants.

“This money could have been used to do a proper engagement with the whole town community to come up with a climate action plan that we could all get behind. It is essential that the council works with the community to achieve the very ambitious but necessary task of reducing our town’s carbon footprint to net zero by 2030. It’s time they started holding meetings again using the digital technology that we are all becoming used to. This is a great opportunity to start engaging with residents about what sort of town we want to be as we start to build a post Covid 19 world.

“We would also like to acknowledge the great work done by Michael Moor, Chair of the Friends of Hastings Country Park, who, with other officers, has been so active making clear the arguments against this proposal and highlighting the unique value of the country park.”

The total cost of the studies came to £32,445, as detailed in the answer to Question 11 on HBC’s website page  Ground mounted solar FAQs.

 

Posted 12:12 Friday, May 15, 2020 In: Energy

1 Comment

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  1. Bolshie

    The final outcome, thank goodness, of this crazy idea in the first place being kicked into the weeds makes you really wonder about the councillors who control the borough.
    It really wasn’t “rocket science” was it to figure out putting a huge solar farm in the Country Park – an AONB – would be a non-starter and a very controversial one with the public. But no as per usual those in office chose not to listen to anyone but themselves. And they threw £30K – of public money of course- at this idea while refusing to listen to anyone else. While prior to this final decision we had Cllr Evans telling us how it was a wonderful thing and something we really needed in the County Park.
    There appeared to be this idea from those in the councillor circle that all there would be is some solar panels. Nothing about the other infrastructure required for a solar farm of this size.
    Well done Natural England for stepping into the controversy and disagreeing with HBC et al.

    Comment by Bolshie — Saturday, May 16, 2020 @ 15:45

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