On 1st March 2019 a page was uploaded to the Hastings Borough Council website stating the Council’s answers to frequently asked questions that people might ask about the proposed industrial solar development planned for the Country Park.
We hope that the answers below will give you a better picture of what is planned and what its effects might be.
Q1 Why are you spending council money on solar farms?
The scheme has been devised by the Council’s Head of Income Generation under the Income Generation Strategy. The purpose of the scheme is to generate revenue. It was only after the proposals were questioned by residents that sustainability arguments came into prominence.
Q2 Are you covering the Country Park with solar panels?
The council's plan is to cover ten acres of grazing land at the heart of the Country Park Local Nature Reserve with an industrial scale solar farm.
Q3 So how big a solar farm are we talking about?
The proposed 10 acres is the size of five football pitches; so it is a huge area.
Q4 Why use the land here?
The council owns the land. A Hastings Council commissioned report in 2017 “Sustainable Energy Options Study” excluded the Country Park because of environmental considerations. Other areas were identified and have not been pursued. The report concluded “Opportunities for large scale renewables are limited within HBC’s area, due largely to its urban nature. The Council could consider investment in renewable opportunities outside the area”.
Q5 Isn’t the land at the Country Park contaminated.
No, the land is reasonable to good quality pasture and not contaminated. These fields drain directly into the Fairlight Glen SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and SAC (Special Area of Conservation). Contaminated run off from these fields led to the last tenant farmer being expelled, the threat of fines from English Nature and the eventual formation of the Local Nature Reserve to protect this sensitive habitat.
Q6 Will they harm wildlife?
Natural England give the following advice: “When considering site selection for utility scale solar developments it is generally agreed that protected areas should be avoided .... solar PV developments should not be built on or near protected areas. As sensitive species and habitats are not necessarily restricted to the geographical boundaries of protected areas, it is imperative that research is undertaken into the potential interactions between solar PV arrays and biodiversity - especially sensitive habitats and species.”
Q7 Do they make a lot of noise?
The transformers that convert the DC current produced by the panels into AC current for distribution do produce noise. It is not known how this noise might affect wildlife. There will also be security fencing and other security infrastructure.
Q8 Will the Council spray the area with chemicals and weedkiller?
If chemical are used for cleaning the panels they would contaminate the land. The fields are currently topped to control weeds; these may need to be sprayed annually with weed killer once the panels have been installed as topping would be difficult. Any chemicals used will flow with the surface water into the protected SSSI.
Q9 Aren’t solar panels an eyesore?
Yes. The panels will be black, reflective and raised on frames and will entirely change the look of large areas of the Country Park. The proposed area for the solar plant lies within one of the most important areas of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the scheme will cause extensive visual damage to the AONB.
Q10 Why aren’t you using the council’s land at Pebsham landfill site?
Pebsham is the obvious place to site solar arrays. Hastings Borough Council should research when the land will be stable enough to use for solar panels and look at proposals to make the site available quickly. The large solar array at Westhampnett in West Sussex is built on a landfill site.
Q11 Are there other suitable sites?
Local organisations like Energise Sussex Coast have shown what it is possible to achieve with imagination and determination.
Q12 Aren’t these sites in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and near Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)?
Yes. And also directly adjacent to the SAC (Special Area of Conservation) and to Ancient Woodland. This means that planning policy gives these fields the highest possible levels of protection; it is highly unlikely that the scheme will be successful at the planning stage.
Q13 What do Natural England say?
Natural England have no formal say in this matter until the Council seeks planning permission. However, in recent advice, they give a clear indication of what their view at the planning stage might be: "Paragraph 170 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) highlights the need to protect and enhance valued landscapes through the planning system. As you (HBC) have acknowledged, the site is within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Under the NPPF, this landscape should be afforded the highest status of protection in relation to the conservation and enhancement of landscape …. The NPPF states that major development within an AONB should be refused other than in exceptional circumstances”
Q13 How do I have my say?
Please write directly to your own Councillor to express your view of this scheme.