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.
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.
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.
“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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