‘The worst possible place to put a solar farm’

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

As if north Kent was not under enough pressure of development, monstrous plans for the country’s largest solar power station have been announced for a site on the North Kent Marshes.

The scheme, proposed by Hive Energy and Wirsol, has been named Cleve Hill Solar Park and would, if built, cover an eyewatering 890 acres of Graveney, Nagden and Cleve Marshes.

The developers say their scheme would provide power for some 110,000 homes. This would be “equivalent to the number in Swale and Canterbury combined”, according to one report in the local media; if that’s the case, it might be salient to ask where all that energy from the nearby Kentish Flats wind farm is going!

A possible capacity of 350 MW would be five times that of the UK’s current largest solar park, at Lyneham in Wiltshire, which produces 69 MW.

The colossal size of the Cleve Hill application makes it a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), meaning the decision on whether it goes ahead will be made by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The North Kent Marshes are internationally important for birds and the area being targeted by Hive Energy and Wirsol borders an extensive Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar-designated site.

Much of the targeted site itself lies within the Natural England-designated Greater Thames Estuary Natural Area and Character Area, while almost all of it  is noted as an Area of Greatest Habitat Opportunity (enhancement) and as a Biodiversity Opportunity Area.

That’s an awful lot of titles and designations, demonstrating how important this area is wildlife… and of course for the many people who use it for walking and so many other recreational activities.

Hardly the place for the UK’s largest solar power station, you might think!

This very special landscape is enhanced by an incredible array of birdlife, particularly wildfowl and waders, while numbers of marsh harriers – a bird of prey on the brink of extinction in this country not so very long ago – are high.

Further, the Cleve Hill site adjoins two Kent Wildlife Trust reserves – Oare Marshes and South Swale – while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds manages large chunks of the nearby Seasalter Levels.

CPRE will scrutinise this proposal in much greater detail over the coming weeks, but director Hilary Newport said: “If I was to think of the worst possible place to put a solar farm, it would be here.

“We absolutely support the principle of renewable energy, but [the panels] should be on roofs, not trashing landscapes in an astonishingly beautiful part of the North Kent Marshes.”

Monday, November 13, 2017

Night blight and dark skies – new maps launched

The most detailed ever satellite maps of England’s light pollution and dark skies, released today (13th June) by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), have shown that Thanet Earth is the second worst light polluter in the country, only second to Tata Steel in Rotherham. [1].

Night sky over Thanet, photo by Kimberley Eve

Night sky over Thanet, photo by Kimberley Eve

Overall, Kent is the 29th darkest county of 41. The maps, produced using satellite images captured at 1.30 am throughout September 2015, show that within Kent, Ashford has the darkest skies, 68th of 326 districts. Ashford Borough Council adopted a specific Dark Skies Policy in 2014 to raise awareness about ways we can minimise light pollution and to raise the profile of dark skies as an environmental asset we are increasingly at threat of losing. [2]

Dartford has Kent’s lightest skies, 260th of the 326 districts, of course this area has major transport networks, including the Dartford Crossing.

Thanet is 241st in the rankings, with 34% of its skies in the lightest categories. Thanet Earth pledged to improve its greenhouse blinds in 2013, yet the light emitted is still severe. [3] [4] Its maximum brightness value is 584.98nanowatts/cm2*sr, brighter than anywhere else in the South East, including London.

Thanet Earth by Craig Solly 1

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Thanet Earth, photos by Craig Solly

Thanet Earth, photos by Craig Solly

The research comes at a time of increasing awareness of the harmful effects light pollution can have on the health of people and wildlife. That these skies were monitored at 1.30am illustrates just how long into the night England’s lighting spills.

The new maps were produced by Land Use Consultants from data gathered by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in America. The NOAA satellite captured visible and infrared imagery to determine the levels of light spilling up into British skies. CPRE is sending lesson plans to primary schools in order to promote the enjoyment of dark skies.

We are calling on the county’s local authorities to use these maps to identify areas with severe light pollution and target action to reduce it, as well as identifying existing dark skies that need protecting.

 

Stars by Tone Netone

Stars by Tone Netone

Starry night by Ethan Sztular

Starry night by Ethan Sztular

CPRE Kent recommends that:

  • Local authorities follow Ashford’s lead and develop policies to reduce light pollution in their emerging local plans.
    The councils use CPRE’s maps to inform decisions on local planning applications and identify individual facilities that should be asked to dim or switch off unnecessary lights.
  • Local businesses review their current lighting and future development plans to save money by dimming or switching off light to reduce pollution as well as meet their promises over reducing existing pollution (e.g. Thanet Earth).

Hilary Newport, director of CPRE Kent said: “Our view of the stars is obscured by artificial light. Many children may not have seen the Milky Way, our own galaxy, due to the veil of light that spreads across their night skies. It is known that dark skies are beneficial to our wellbeing. Light pollution can disturb our sleep, prevent our enjoyment of the countryside and affect wildlife, by interrupting natural rhythms including migration, reproduction and feeding patterns.
“Councils can reduce light levels through better planning, and with investment in the right street lighting that is used only where and when it is needed.
“Our Night Blight maps also show where people can expect to find a truly dark, starry sky and we hope they will go out and enjoy the wonder of the stars.”

Summary of Kent districts (this information and more is available via the maps):

District Ranking out of 329 % in three darkest sky categories, less than 1 NanoWatts / cm2 / sr
Ashford 68 85
Tunbridge Wells 72 76
Shepway 99 74
Sevenoaks 101 47
Dover 106 66
Canterbury 112 78
Maidstone 116 55
Swale 137 47
Tonbridge and Malling 156 32
Medway 196 12
Gravesham 202 0.3
Thanet 241 8
Dartford 260 0

 

Notes:

[1] CPRE’s interactive maps can be accessed at http://nightblight.cpre.org.uk

Light pollution is a generic term referring to excess artificial light that shines where it is neither wanted nor needed. In broad terms, there are three types of light pollution:

  • skyglow – the pink or orange glow we see for miles around towns and cities, spreading deep into the countryside, caused by a scattering of artificial light by airborne dust and water droplets
  • glare – the uncomfortable brightness of a light source
  • light intrusion – light spilling beyond the boundary of the property on which a light is located, sometimes shining through windows and curtains
[2] http://www.ashford.gov.uk/dark-skies-spd-2014

[3] http://www.thanetearth.com/faqs-growing-using-light.html

[4] http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/skies-Birchington-going-green/story-20253506-detail/story.html

June 13th 2016

Stour Park will harm landscape and heritage

We have raised concerns about the huge scale of a planned warehouse development near Ashford and its impact on the important landscape and heritage setting.

The developers of Stour Park, Friends Life Ltd, have applied for permission to build enormous warehouses, 16 metres tall and covering an area the size of 31 football pitches (160,000 sq m). The site, next to Sevington and Mersham villages, is identified for commercial development in the local plan.

Sevington, photo The Village Alliance

Sevington, photo The Village Alliance

We are concerned that the masterplan does not provide sufficient guidance to ensure that the harm to sensitive heritage, landscapes and communities is minimised and appropriately mitigated. The site is close to the medieval grade 1 listed St Mary’s Church and the North Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is essential that a sensitive approach to important views (heritage and landscapes), ecological mitigation, landscaping and building heights, colour, materials and orientation are agreed from the outset.

St Mary's Church, Sevington, photo The Village Alliance

St Mary’s Church, Sevington, photo The Village Alliance

Chairman of CPRE Kent’s Ashford Committee, Dr Hilary Moorby said: “We need to protect the setting of this important church and the AONB. The sheer scale of these giant buildings will change this beautiful rural area dramatically and everything possible must be done to minimise the harm.” Continue reading

Proposed Lower Thames Crossing will cause huge damage

Highways England has announced its recommendation for a crossing east of Gravesend for the Lower Thames Crossing. A consultation is set to start today (26th January), with Highways England believing the Gravesend crossing, or “Option C” provides “double the economic benefit” compared to an additional crossing at Dartford.

The proposed option would see a bored tunnel built to the east of Chalk which is east of Gravesend, with a new road being built from junction 1 of the M2. It would join the M25 between junctions 29 and 30.

We recently (Jan 12) set out our policy on options for a new Lower Thames Crossing, in which we called for a wider, more resilient solution, including investment in ports north of the Thames to disperse the cross channel movement of freight.

QE2 Bridge by Diamond Geezer, flickr

QE2 Bridge by Diamond Geezer, flickr

We have also highlighted the effects of option C on Gravesham. We fear this will destroy ancient woodland, destroy important wildlife habitats which are home to protected species and destroy productive farmland, needed to feed our growing population. It will ruin the beautiful landscapes and panoramic views which make Gravesham so special. And it would have a devastating impact on Shorne Country Park, one of the area’s most important educational, environmental and recreational assets, used by so many people, including horse riders, walkers, cyclists, runners and families or those who just seek the tranquillity and peace so vital to our busy lives.

The crossing itself would not cause all the damage. Continue reading