As formal studies get underway solar plans at country park look certain to divide opinion

Plans to convert ten acres of Hastings Country Park in to a solar farm are getting a mixed reaction from local people – so far those who oppose the plan appear to be the biggest part of that mix with few voices outside the borough council offices speaking up for the idea.

Last week we reported that Friends of Hastings Country Park believed the plans to be both ‘reckless’ and at odds with Hasting Borough Council’s (HBC) planning policies.

After publication of that story Hastings In Focus received a document that appeared to show that HBC had started to spend money on feasibility studies before having engaged fully with Natural England.

When the council’s cabinet earmarked more than £80,000 for ‘professional studies and pre-planning consultations’ to develop a detailed business case for installation of the solar panels there was a condition that the money could only be spent AFTER the council had consulted Natural England for its views.

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Public Power Solutions will be working with Hastings Borough Council to developing plans for solar arrays on Hastings Country Park.

When we asked HBC to comment we were told: “HBC has conversed with Natural England, and we have been advised that we required more information before we can formally consult with Natural England through its Discretional Advice Service (DAS).

“HBC has contracted Public Power Solutions (PPS) to write and tender for the four studies we need in order to engage in the DAS process.”

The studies required are: 

  • Heritage Impact Assessment;
  • Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment;
  • Preliminary Ecological Appraisal
  • Agricultural Land Classification Assessment

Other services that PPS will undertake on behalf of HBC are

  • Request advice from Natural England regarding the studies listed above.
  • Review the content of the studies and present a written summary of the outcomes and recommended next steps.

In addition, PPS is undertaking a high level review of the sites, including an appraisal of technical constraints and initial planning considerations, such as topography.

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Ten acres of Hastings Country Park would become a solar farm if HBC’s plans go ahead.

At the moment the council’s officials are planning to report to the November meeting of the cabinet on any response from Natural England and this, says a council spokesman, will happen before work begins on further feasibility studies.

Last week councillors were taken out to the Country Park to be shown the proposed site for the solar panels – known as solar arrays – writing on her Facebook account Councillor Maya Evans, who was recently given cabinet level responsibility for environmental issues wrote: “Looking at one of the possible sites which could accommodate clean, green and renewable energy for Hastings!”

Councillor Andrew Batsford wrote: “Out in (the) country park looking at possible green energy production opportunities and the progress of the straw build visitors centre.”

However Councillor Rob Lee, leader of the opposition Conservative group on HBC said afterwards: “During a tour of the proposed sites for the industrial solar panels this week it became clear that important and beautiful parts of the country park are under threat from HBC.

“The juxtaposition of ancient woodland and rolling meadows next to ugly solar panels is an uncomfortable one and the whole scheme needs rethinking. The Council says nice words about the environment but this proposed scheme is evidence that they do not care about our natural habitat or the future of the Country Park.”

Members of the public have been expressing their doubts too, writing on social media Nick Sangster said: “I appreciate the arguments for clean, green and renewable energy but I don’t understand why this is the best site in Hastings to install them.”

Bernie Goldman says the plan is, ‘ridiculous’ and suggest installing solar panels on the seafront as shelters: “put them on bus stops or shopping centres but not our lovely park. Surely it’s been damaged enough?”

Jim Wright says green space is always the target for public infrastructure projects. He points out that green fields also store carbon and cycle energy from the sun into food, wildlife, etc: “In the end using them is more costly than it first appears. Putting solar installations on green parkland is not a green solution, in my opinion,”he concludes.

Commenting directly on the Hastings In Focus website ‘Lady Marigold’ said: “Green spaces, ancient woodland, listed buildings – you name it…nothing is safe from the clutches of HBC.

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The Country Park is our jewel in the crown in Hastings says one commentator.

“The Country Park is our jewel in the crown in Hastings but even that special place is not safe from this ruthless council who appear to be seeking yet more ways to raise paltry sums of money no matter the damage to the environment.

“Who is going to stop this utterly shameful attempt to install these solar panels in our beautiful County Park – if we need to raise funds to fight legal battles over this, lets start fundraising now before it is too late.

“It is time to call this feckless council to account – if they get away with this there will be no stopping them.”

‘Andy’ says: “…utter madness! The Country Park was given to the people of Hastings as a green lung, not as a place for commercial exploitation by our own council. They are the ones who are meant to be protecting the nature reserve!

“With all the talk of mental health and wellbeing at the moment, this is just when local residents need an unspoiled place to escape from industrialisation – we have that place in the Country Park… don’t destroy it!”

Rick Dillon is less emotive when he writes: “The council’s motivation for locating a few unobtrusive solar panels on a tiny part of the Country Park site is not to ‘raise paltry sums of money’ …but to play its part in tackling a worldwide climate emergency.

“That Britain needs to play its part – and urgently – has been acknowledged by experts and now by the Government.

“‘Breathtaking’ is indeed right. Our planet, along with the Country Park, is being consumed by a frightening global warming that, if not checked, will threaten life on Earth. The need to develop alternatives to fossil fuel is beyond critical.

“Set against this, the concerns of the Friends of Hastings Country Park do indeed seem ‘paltry’. Rather than threatening and posturing, they might like to consider this, and work with, not against, the council.”

One environmental expert who asked not to be named, told Hastings In Focus that while the country park does make a good site for solar arrays there are many sites in and around Hastings that should be developed first.

“The country park should be seen as a site of last resort there are vast areas of land and huge roof spaces all around town which should be developed first before we start to consider developing a solar farm on the country park.”

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5 thoughts on “As formal studies get underway solar plans at country park look certain to divide opinion

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  1. This doesn’t make sense
    Why the country park ?
    Surely there are so many sites possible before you would think of industralising part of our beautiful country park
    I see the need but feel the location choice is misguided

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  2. I have worked in utility scale Solar for many years, including being a PM for Chichester Councils Tangmere Solar farm, the 1st Council owned Solar farm in the UK: I will try to show neither support or objection in the following- hopefully just insight to help form a rounded opinion.

    Scale and Economics:
    Solar systems are rated by their output, and the cost falls with increasing scale. For example, a system on a bus shelter may be three times the cost of that on a house, in turn twice that of a solar farm~ smaller systems, are more costly than larger ones; new bus shelters that are designed with Solar and compatible equipment (lights/electronic display) are available which would bring the scalable cost down by a small margin~ worth considering at the time of replacement. The Governments tarrifs (subsidies) were reduced as the industry grew and the material cost of Solar fell towards reaching parity with it’s economic life cycle; current tarriffs for large scale Solar are now almost negligible: this was how it was planned in 2011. To install small systems on Council offices will at best pay for itself; a Solar Farm should actually profit the Council. Councils up and down the UK are investing in large scale Solar with particular thought to protecting future pension payments which in turn protect from raising Council Taxes to otherwise counter that cost increase in the future.

    Location:
    The Sea-breeze we all enjoy on the South Coast, clears the sky of cloud as it moves inland giving us more sunshine: this makes Solar energy less costly, as the “energy-yield” is higher. The biggest killer of Solar panels is bird dropping, which stops output in an isolated spot and can lead to their “burn-out” if left unchecked~ Hastings is notorious for its Seagulls! cleaning on a swift reactive service would be irresponsible not to have, although costly. The sea-front carparks could be covered in Solar parking bays? cleaning would be more cost effective BUT people living opposite on the sea-front may suffer from the glare of reflected sun-light: still maybe twice the cost compared to a Solar farm. Out of town, is more suitable than In Town.

    Environment:
    Planning requires an environmental plan that will “increase” local wild life, not just maintain the status-quo. Except Natural Reserves, all land is managed. Hard borders between woodland and kept grass areas have removed the part shade borders that exist naturally- the habitat of many small mammals which have declined hugely in numbers because it. Over the past decades, farmers have been incentivised to set aside these borders to grow naturally which have very effectively encouraged back wild life: regular human presence (especially with dogs) in a location, discourage our native small mammals. I have returned to inspect Solar farms a year after commissioning, and enjoyed watching the wild life~ I once watched a Stoat take a small rabbit, Hares especially like them: small mammals thrive as the panels protect from birds of prey~ the food chain re-establishes and grows.

    The Savings:
    The electricity Solar produces is best self consumed- saving buying it from a supplier at say 15p/unit~ to do this it has to be connected directly to where you use it. On large scale Solar this is generally not possible and connects to the National Grid at high-voltage~ here you can sell it all to the electricity suppliers (11p/unit?) or form an agreement (PPA) with your supplier to pay them for transporting the electricity to where you want it through their cables, at say 4p/unit, saving 11p/unit.

    In respect of the PPA above, the Solar farm can be of considerable distance from you, even another County. Land might be rented to locate the Solar farm, but this adds a significant cost which can generally only be offset by large Solar farms.

    There is a lot to way up, including that to connect to the high voltage network you will have to run a cable, which is quite a significant cost in the scheme~ a long cable run can break a feasibility study cold dead. The National Grid as well, may not be able to connect you because of the condition of the Grid in your location~ this requires talking through with their engineers and is the first step in planning after considering a location.

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  3. Everyone is aware of the need to do everything possible to save our environment from collapse. But putting these solar panels in the Country Park is not the way forward. The environmental damage to this area would far outweight the benefits.
    As pointed out by a commentator on this page, the electrical installation is significant.
    And the area would require secure fencing to prevent members of the public gaining access to the area. There are high voltages associated with all solar panel ‘farms’ which presents a very serious.danger to the publlc and wildlife.
    Clearly the council has not done their homework on this plan and there are many ‘guidances’ and useful advice available on the internet without the need to fork out £80k for a feasibility study. One has to wonder why the first port of call was not Natural England. Surely this organisation was an essential consultee for such a large installation in such a special place?
    This council is behaving in a very irresponsible fashion – but hey – what’s new here.

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  4. That is a very interesting insight to the issues and facts by Peter Campbell about this conception of these panels taking up 10 acres of the park.
    I fear that no matter what the outcome of any advice, studies, surveys; if HBC want to do it they will just go ahead and …….do it. Thinking of the Huff & Puff house here you have a five year project at an extortionate cost for what it is and what its function is but regardless of that HBC would not be practical and build something economical.
    I would like to know if there were any other tenders to do this study and if so what was their estimates were. Another cloudy area of what goes on in HBC. And talking about that who in HBC came up with this idea?
    The quote in the article from Lady Marigold is spot on and obviously considered by the writer to be a significant one

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  5. Thinking on this further, I am curious to know who actually decided to spend this £80K for this feasibility report. I assume it was one of the plethora of council committees and one dominated by Labour councillors. Like the Straw house this idea appears to be a big favourite with Cllr Chowney.
    I can see if and when this ever comes a committee stage for voting Yea or Nay – the decision on how to vote will already be sorted.
    This PPS who is going to do the survey is interesting. A subsidiary of Swindon Council. What I find odd about these council owned companies are the number of officers that pass through it and how many they often have. This company in ten years currently has nine officers and had a total of 22 officers. An average of two a year passing though the board of it.

    The other issue about this huge project is I can’t see the public getting much say about it. Apart from informative articles like this

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