Solar-farm campaigners travel to Westminster but debate is postponed

MP Helen Whately addresses campaigners with their model showing the height of the planned development
It all made for quite a scene…

Staff members and volunteers from CPRE Kent travelled to Westminster on Monday (September 9) to support campaigners against proposals for the country’s largest solar farm, at Cleve Hill, near Faversham.
They were among a group of some people 50 who travelled to Parliament to listen to a debate on the impact of the plant on Graveney Marshes.
It had been secured by Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately, but unfortunately the chaos of the day, which saw Parliament suspended by the Prime Minister, meant it didn’t get to be held.
The adjournment debate, whereby the House of Commons is adjourned for a debate on a topic without a substantive motion being considered, is now due to held next month (October).
The campaigners’ trip was organised by Graveney Rural Environment Action Team (GREAT), who brought a to-scale model of one of the raised platforms needed to support the solar panels, demonstrating the height of the development.

  • For more on the Cleve Hill proposals, see here, here and here

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Cleve Hill solar farm: it might not be too late to have your say

The special landscape of Graveney Marshes would be destroyed if the Cleve Hill solar park was approved (pic Vicky Ellis)

If you want to have your say on plans for a 1,000-acre solar farm near Faversham but didn’t make the submissions deadline you might still have a chance.
The deadline to register with the Planning Inspectorate as an Interested Party in relation to the proposed Cleve Hill Solar Park passed on Monday, January 28, but the inspectorate has just announced that the “Examining Authority has used its discretion to accept Additional Submissions from the Applicant and a Late Relevant Representation. These have been published and added to the Examination Library”.
There is no guarantee, but it is difficult to see how any other late representations could justifiably be refused given the other late acceptances.
The developer’s application for a Development Consent Order, made on November 16, was accepted by the inspectorate, meaning an inquiry into the scheme will now be held. CPRE Kent is among 867 groups and individuals to have registered as Interested Parties for this process.
As for the next stage, the inspectorate website says: “Details of the Preliminary Meeting will be announced here shortly.
“The Examining Authority will carry out an Initial Assessment of Principal Issues derived from its reading of the application and the Relevant Representations received and set a date for the Preliminary Meeting.”

  • Should you wish to add your voice to the inquiry, visit the Planning Inspectorate website here
  • For more on the Cleve Hill story, see here, here and here

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Cleve Hill: another reminder to register your interest. Pretty pleeease…

The special landscape of Graveney Marshes would be destroyed if the Cleve Hill solar park was approved (pic Vicky Ellis)

Sorry (sort of) to return to this theme so quickly – and it won’t be the last time – but it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to register your interest in plans for the UK’s biggest solar farm, on the North Kent Marshes.
The Planning Inspectorate’s decision to consider Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd’s application for a Development Consent Order allowing it to build a 1,000-acre solar power station near Faversham means we all have until Monday, January 28, to register as an Interested Party.
Your views must initially be registered in no more than 500 words.
Please note that registration does not commit you to anything. However, if you do want to become involved and make representation to the inquiry inspector, you must have registered during this period.
To go to the registration form, click here
This will also take you to a tab letting you view the application documents. You might, however, find them easier to navigate via Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd’s website here.
CPRE Kent will of course be registering as an Interested Party. We expect our final draft to include the following concerns:

  • Damage to landscape, including tranquillity and dark skies
  • Inadequate assessment of flood risk and potential conflict with the Environment Agency’s ‘managed retreat’ strategy relating to future sea-level rise
  • Impacts on soil microclimate and hydrology
  • Ecological impacts and loss of biodiversity
  • Damage to heritage assets caused by traffic during construction and beyond the construction period
  • Loss of agricultural land
  • Threats to animal welfare

To learn more about what these plans might mean for this vast area, in one of this country’s most important areas for wetland birds, please see here

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Cleve Hill solar farm: can this really be allowed to happen?

A kestrel hovers over the marshes… how much long longer will wildlife have a future in the area? (pic GREAT)

We recently detailed the threat posed by plans for the UK’s largest solar farm on the North Kent Marshes, near Faversham.
Then the plans covered 890 acres of Graveney, Nagden and Cleve Marshes – that figure has since expanded to 1,000 acres, to allow, according to developer Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd, for “expanded habitat management areas” dedicated to wildlife.
The increased acreage would also allow the developer to work with the Environment Agency on maintaining flood defences, the extension covering “the area where any maintenance might be needed”.
A second public consultation ended in July and drew more than 700 “pieces of feedback”, resulting in the anticipated application to the Planning Inspectorate for a Development Consent Order being delayed from August to October 31, 2018.
CPRE Kent is vehemently opposed to Cleve Hill Solar Park due to its scale, its position within the North Kent Marshes, which are internationally important for birds, and the drastic effect on the landscape.
“If I was to think of the worst possible place to put a solar farm, it would be here,” director Hilary Newport had said when the proposal was announced.
“We absolutely support the provision of renewable energy, but solar panels should be on roofs, not trashing landscapes in an astonishingly beautiful part of the North Kent Marshes.”
Dr Newport’s view strikes a chord in this part of the world. As a Faversham resident noted on social media: “If we are to lose Nagden Marshes, Graveney Marshes and Cleve Marshes to the biggest solar farm in the UK, why are the hundreds of new houses being built in Faversham not having solar rooftops?”
If that is possibly the definition of a rhetorical question, the destruction of such a huge expanse of land in an area so important for wildlife and people alike is anything but a light-hearted matter.
CPRE Kent’s response to the second public consultation totalled almost 1,700 words, our primary concerns focusing on the following areas (more may be added after scrutiny of the DCO application):

  • Damage to landscape, including tranquillity and dark skies
  • Inadequate assessment of flood risk and potential conflict with the Environment Agency’s ‘managed retreat’ strategy
  • Impacts on soil microclimate and hydrology
  • Ecological impacts
  • Damage to heritage assets caused by construction traffic
  • Loss of agricultural land
  • Threats to animal welfare

With government offering little or no incentive for solar energy to become an integral requirement for housing development – the export tariff, the money given to householders with solar panels for the electricity they provide to the national grid, ends on March 31, while it has announced that it will not be subsidising any renewable-energy projects until at least 2025 – can such an environmentally damaging proposal as Cleve Hill be justified?
CPRE Kent recognises the challenges of climate change and the government’s commitment to meeting carbon-emission targets but does not consider that the renewable-energy benefits of Cleve Hill outweigh the damage it would cause the North Kent Marshes.
We also question the sustainability of reliance on lithium-ion battery technology, with its own remote but concerning ecological impacts.
More broadly, Kent could not be accused of failing to contribute to the country’s renewable-energy needs. The website MyGridGB’s UK Renewable Energy Map shows that, in October 2017, this county had 36 solar farms either active, in construction or awaiting construction. Neighbouring Surrey, by comparison, had just two… and one of those floats on a reservoir.
Further, Kent hosts five wind farms, including, in London Array, the second-largest offshore site in the world. A sixth is planned.
Cleve Hill lies on the boundary of Swale and Canterbury districts, and two councillors from the latter local authority have pointed out in the local press that, in terms of providing ‘green energy’, “the Canterbury area alone is punching six times its weight against the national average”.
Michael Wilcox is chairman of GREAT (Graveney Rural Environment Action Team), which has been fighting the solar park plans at Cleve Hill and has been encouraged by the response to the consultation.
“I think they’ve been overwhelmed by the feedback, which has led to the delayed application,” he said.
“We haven’t really seen any changes from the developers since the consultation, so we don’t really know what’s going on, but both Kent Wildlife Trust and our local MP Helen Whately have openly come out against the scheme.”
There is a belief among some that the Cleve Hill application is a ‘done deal’, that conversations behind closed doors have secured a decision in the developer’s favour, but Mr Wilcox does not see it that way:
“I think opposition is building. I thought it might have been a done deal, a tick in the box for the carbon targets they’re chasing, but as the months have gone past it’s become glaringly obvious that it’s not green energy if you’re destroying countryside and harming wildlife. “This looks and feels like a dense industrial development and I think people question if this is the answer.
“I want to be clear: we are not against solar energy, but this kind of thing is dirty solar. Why new homes are not incorporating solar panels is a mystery – when a house is being built is the easiest time to put in solar.”
The loss of wildlife is one of the most distressing aspects of the Cleve Hill project for Mr Wilcox, who lives in Nagden.
“It’s this little pocket of land that somehow missed being designated as worthy of protection. If it’s solely down to land management, then there’s the lovely story of Elmley over on the Isle of Sheppey, where 40-odd years ago some of the site was farmed for arable and the production of barley or corn but has now been converted back and forms part of a nature reserve.
“The land here has been identified for managed retreat and conversion towards intertidal saltmarsh, but under this scheme it would be killed by a whole load of steel.
“Apparently the developer has described it as just muddy fields, but on those muddy fields there are nesting lapwings, skylarks and reed buntings, while they form part of a wider expanse necessary for birds of prey such as marsh and hen harriers.”
When considering how Cleve Hill Solar Park would look, you need to disregard anything you might already have seen elsewhere.
“It would entail about a million panels packed very densely. Rather than the familiar south-facing setting, they would have an east-west orientation and look like a factory,” said Mr Wilcox.
“The normal appearance of a solar farm is quite benign, but this design made me question the whole proposal as it’s so dense and has panels up to 4.3 metres high – as high as a London double-decker bus.
“South-facing panels have substantial space between them so they don’t shade each other, whereas east-west ones are about blanket coverage that can absorb more radiation early and late in the day.
“These would be angled at about 12 degrees – almost flat – whereas south-facing panels are 30-40 degrees.
“The panels planned for Cleve Hill would be 24 metres across with just three 30-centimetre gaps to let the rain drip off. The rows would be up to half a kilometre in length and there would need to be 2.5-metre spaces between the rows to allow for maintenance.
“In short, the ground would be receiving barely any sunlight and effectively die.”
The developer says it is looking to include “battery storage technology” in its scheme although it has not decided on the details.
“It’s likely the battery would need about nine hectares, together with a new bund around it,” said Mr Wilcox.
“The battery storage could make this more about price speculation than energy production – a similar installation in Australia is reported to earn huge profits by selling energy when it’s more expensive.”
A verdict on the proposed Cleve Hill Solar Park could be expected from the Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy and Strategy in late 2019. For the wildlife that depends on this special place and for the people who love it, there can only be one acceptable answer.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Cleve Hill solar farm plan: if you want to have a say, now is the time to register

The special landscape of Graveney Marshes would be destroyed if the Cleve Hill solar park was approved (pic Vicky Ellis)

The Planning Inspectorate last week agreed to consider proposals for the UK’s largest solar farm, on the North Kent Marshes near Faversham – and you can comment on the scheme.
Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd’s application for a Development Consent Order that would allow it to build a 1,000-acre solar power station was accepted by the Planning Inspectorate, meaning there will now be a consultation period leading into an inquiry.
If you want to have your say on the planned Cleve Hill Solar Park, you need to register as an Interested Party – and today (Wednesday, December 19) the window for registration opened.
Your views must initially be registered in no more than 500 words by Monday, January 28.
Registration does not commit you to anything. However, if you later wish to become involved and make representation to the inquiry inspector, you must have registered during this period.
To go to the registration form, click here
This will also take you to a tab letting you view the application documents. You might, however, find them easier to navigate via Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd’s website here (due to the size of the files, they are uploaded on a Google Drive space).
CPRE Kent will of course be registering as an Interested Party. Our final draft is yet to be completed, but we expect it to include the following concerns:

  • Damage to landscape, including tranquillity and dark skies
  • Inadequate assessment of flood risk and potential conflict with the Environment Agency’s ‘managed retreat’ strategy relating to future sea-level rise
  • Impacts on soil microclimate and hydrology
  • Ecological impacts and loss of biodiversity
  • Damage to heritage assets caused by traffic during construction and beyond the construction period
  • Loss of agricultural land
  • Threats to animal welfare

We expect to work alongside a range of groups, so if you wish to make comments via CPRE Kent please email either:

You can, of course, register as an individual to be involved in the examination of the DCO.
For more on the saga of Cleve Hill, see here and here

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The threat of a colossal solar farm at Cleve Hill: learn more this weekend

The special landscape of Graveney Marshes would be destroyed if the Cleve Hill solar park was approved (pic Vicky Ellis)

The threat of a vast solar power station on the North Kent Marshes near Faversham will come into focus at an event on Sunday (December 9).
Richard Knox-Johnston, CPRE Kent vice-president, will join local MP Helen Whately and Andrew Bowles, leader of Swale Borough Council, in giving speeches during the information day, which runs from 10am-2pm.
The event, at Faversham Guildhall, is being hosted by Graveney Rural Environment Action Team (GREAT) and will give you the chance to find out more about the plans by Cleve Hill Solar Park Ltd, which would cover an eyewatering 1,000 acres – potentially the largest development of its kind in the country.
The speeches start from 11am, while the main topics of the day will be:

  • How is this different from a typical solar park?
  • What will be the impact on the environment and wildlife?
  • What do our local politicians think?
  • When will a decision be made?
  • How can you get involved and have your say?
  • The information day is being held at The Guildhall, Market Place, Faversham ME13 7AG, from 10am-2pm on Sunday, December 9.
  •  For more on this story, see here and here 
  •  For more on GREAT, see here 

Cleve Hill, plans for the UK’s largest solar farm… and our response

The special landscape of Graveney Marshes would be destroyed if the Cleve Hill solar park was approved (picture by Vicky Ellis)

The damaging proposal for the country’s largest solar farm, at Cleve Hill near Faversham, has reached the second public consultation phase and CPRE has taken the opportunity to clarify its strong opposition to the project.
Our response totals almost 1,700 words, but our primary concerns lie in the following areas (more may be added after scrutiny of the Development Consent Order application):

  • Damage to landscape including tranquillity and dark skies
  • Inadequate assessment of flood risk and potential conflict with the Environment Agency’s ‘managed retreat’ strategy
  • Impacts on soil microclimate and hydrology
  • Ecological impacts
  • Damage to heritage assets caused by construction traffic
  • Loss of agricultural land
  • Threats to animal welfare

CPRE Kent recognises the challenges of climate change and the government’s commitment to meeting carbon emission targets but does not consider the renewable-energy benefits of the scheme proposed by developers Hive Energy and Wirsol – which has already grown from an initial 890 acres to 1,000 – outweigh the damage it would cause the North Kent Marshes.
We also question the sustainability of reliance on lithium-ion technology, with its own remote but concerning ecological impacts.
In short, the solar farm proposal is on a wholly unacceptable scale and in entirely the wrong location; it carries a disturbing catalogue of harmful impacts and it is to be hoped that the plans are ultimately stopped in their tracks.
Read our response to the consultation: Cleve Hill II Consultation Response (CPRE)