26 July 2019

The Planning Inspectorate’s hearings into the application by Cleve Hill Solar park Ltd to build a solar farm on Graveney Marshes have closed. It was quite a turn-out. The Planning Inspectorate was represented by three people (although one was absent on this specific day). While the applicant fielded no less than 12 speakers and support staff. Also in attendance were Swale Green Party, as too were Natural England, Kent Country Council, Kent Wildlife Trust, The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Graveney Rural Environment Action Team (GREAT), Faversham and Swale East Labour Party, Faversham Creek Trust, and The Faversham Society…. apologies to any others missed out! There were also a fair few in the general public seats, many of whom also contributed by raising questions.

This last session examined the impact of the proposed solar park to biodiversity and wildlife. Most, if not all of the attendees had already submitted written statements outlining their concerns over the park. This meeting therefore was mainly taking place to allow the Planning Inspectorate to ask supplementary questions and seek clarifications from the attendees, primarily the applicant.

Some of the issues that arose at the meeting included setting a noise threshold on construction to minimise the impact on wildlife. The maintenance of 10 meter buffer strips to facilitate foraging by Brent Geese and to avoid contamination from fertilisers. The contents of the seed mix intended for sowing – and whether the seeds were suitable for the target species, which included Brent Geese, Golden Plover and Lapwing. Whether 50 acres were enough for maintaining the Brent Geese population – it was pointed out they often ranged over 1,000 acres. Whether 5 years monitoring of the environmental impact of the solar farm post construction was sufficient or should be extended. The impact of decommissioning. The impact of the solar farm on the Marsh Harrier, particularly when landing on the panels, and the lack of a comparable reference study elsewhere. The impact on Eels, and why this species had not been noted in the applicants environmental impact study. The impact on Door Mice, The Greater Crested Newt and the danger of the humane killing of Marsh Frogs by the developer inadvertently extending to local species. It was also noted that salt marsh had a considerable role to play in carbon sequestration, Tony Juniper was quoted as saying salt marsh held more carbon deposits than an equivalent size of tropical rainforest. It was questioned whether this had been taken into account by the planning team.

The meeting closed with the announcement that further hearings, if needed, would commence from the 9th September.

Although there were clearly many people committed to examining the impact of the proposed solar park, this attendee at least was left with the impression there were far more resources available to the applicant than to the local groups. Indeed, it was reported at the meeting that The RSPB was unable attend due to lack of resources and internal restructuring.

 

Why are Swale Green Party opposed to the Cleve Hill Solar Park?

It would be fair to say that we had a considerable internal debate before deciding to oppose the Cleve Hill development, and certainly agree we need renewables. The problems with the Cleve hill site relate to its scale and the orientation of the panels, and whilst acknowledging the site itself is intensive farmland, the surrounding area contains several important sites for wildife including Swale Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Area and Ramsar site.

The proposal is for the panels to have an east-west orientation, rather than the usual south facing orientation , which means that there is much less space between the panels and there will be much less opportunity for wildlife to thrive in the gaps .In addition the flood risk in this area means that the panels will be nearly 4m off the ground in places , and the effect will be of an unbroken industrial roof over an area nearly the size of Faversham. National Green Party policy favours development of solar at small to mid scale on agricultural land, but this goes way beyond that. There are better alternatives , such as old power stations like Kingsnorth, and domestic and industrial roofs, though current government policy has made roofs much more difficult to implement.

We will continue to oppose the development and keep you updated on the application.