17 January 2020
A year ago in January 2019, the Cabinet of Hastings Borough Council approved a feasibility study for installing 10 acres of industrial scale solar arrays in Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve. The principal aim was to generate money for the Council by selling the power generated. While accepting the need for Hastings to be playing its part in alternative sources of power generation, the Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve (Appendix 1) have been resolutely opposed to this plan since the outset.
The Council engaged consultants, Public Power Solutions, to look at various aspects of this proposal; they have now reported back. Apparently as a result, the Council has changed its mind about where solar arrays might now be put (Press Release issued 8 January 2020). The current preferred sites are in permanent pastures immediately above Fairlight Glen and at North’s Seat on the other side of Fairlight Road (Map at Appendix 2). Sites in front of Fairlight Place and above Warren Glen appear to have been dropped.
In addition, the Council later asked the consultants to consider the feasibility of installing solar arrays on Council owned land elsewhere in the Borough. The Council’sdraft budget for 2020/21 and 2021/2 earmarks funds for solar arrays, but is not clear at present how those funds might be split between the Nature Reserve and other Council owned areas.
In December, the Council contacted Natural England, as the Government’senvironmental regulator, under its Discretionary Advice Service, asking for comment on the proposals. Their reply is awaited but could take up to six months.
Subject to the views of Natural England and other considerations, the Council would then need to decide whether to move to a formal planning stage.
Views of the Friends
In June 2019 and January 2020, the Friends made two submissions to Natural England setting out in detail the environmental case against the Council’s plan. Thesesubmissions were freely shared with the Council and others.
In summary, the Friends base their opposition on the following grounds:
- The inconsistencies between national environmental rules and the Council’splanning policies on the one hand, and its proposals for the solar arrays on the other. Indeed, the Council’s own “Sustainable Energy Options Study” of 2017excluded the Country Park from consideration for ground-mounted solar arrays because it is a protected environment.
- The Council have chosen land that is not appropriate, and where the visual impact of the project would be very detrimental to the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, of which the Reserve is an important part as the area where the AONB meets the sea.
- Although it appears that the Council acknowledge that the Sites are within the Impact Risk Zones for the Site of Special Scientific Interest, they do not seem to have considered the implications of this or commissioned an Environmental Impact Assessment.
- The Council appear to be acting inconsistently with, or failing to take account of, a number of their own Environmental Policies, particularly by requiring from third parties an Ecological Constraints and Opportunities Plan whereas no such plan has so far been mentioned in regard to their own project.
- The Council has consistently (and rightly) refused planning applications for residential extensions and improvements in and around the Country Park on the basis that they would be contrary not only to the National Planning Policy Framework, but also to The High Weald AONB Management Plan 2019-24 and a number of Council policies incorporated in the Hastings Local Plan. It would seem that the Council doesn’t intend to be so rigorous with regard to its own presentproposal.
- It was the Council itself which designated the Country Park as a Local Nature Reserve, and its policy hitherto has been to manage the whole of the Reserve for biodiversity, including the areas used for crops, as well as the areas of permanent pasture where it is suggested that the solar arrays might be sited.
- If the Council moves in due course to seek formal planning permission for installing solar arrays in the Nature Reserve it will be acting as both judge and jury on its own behalf.
- The Friends have rebutted an assertion from the Council that solar farms can enhance biodiversity, implying that there would be no damage to biodiversity from the present project. The opposite is true: where the land is within a Nature Reserve and currently managed with a view to enhancing biodiversity, the installation of a solar farm could only be detrimental.
The Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve remain resolute in our opposition to this deeply inappropriate plan. We are glad to support the Council in its work to establish solar arrays on sites which are less environmentally precious including sites within and outside the Borough.
The Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve is a community organisation ofabout 190 mainly local people which works to “protect, promote and enhance the natural environment of the Reserve”. We organise events, publish a newsletter and have worked with the Council over many years. In 2020 we are pleased to be celebrating with the Council and Groundwork Trust the opening of a new visitor centre and working with them to enhance education, interpretation and volunteering.
The two proposed sites for Ground Mounted Solar Arrays are shown in red.
All the land shown in colour is part of the Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve.
The Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve
17th January 2020