Hastings Country Park solar farm plans: Labour defends decision to look at green energy projects

Hastings Borough Council is to move ahead with proposals to build solar energy farms, putting aside up to £80,000 to look into the scheme.

Campaigners against plans for solar farms in Hastings Country Park
Campaigners against plans for solar farms in Hastings Country Park

At a packed evening meeting on Monday (January 7), the council’s Labour-led cabinet gave officers the go ahead to look into building solar farms at three sites in Crowhurst and Fairlight – two of which lie within Hastings Country Park.

The proposals, however, have proven to be controversial, with a large number of protesters at attending the meeting and more than 800 residents signing a change.org petition set up by the town’s Conservative MP Amber Rudd to oppose the plans.

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But, during Monday’s meeting, council leader Peter Chowney (Tressell) said the council had a responsibility to look at green energy projects.

He said: “Every responsible council in the country has to look at all the really good sites for energy generation. This clearly is one, or these ones are here.

“A lot of councils and a lot of public bodies and land owners are simply putting this off because it is controversial [and] people are going to be concerned.”

He added that if the project would only go ahead ‘if there was no environmental damage’.

The meeting also heard from officers, who said the three potential sites had been chosen as the local electric grid would be able to take the power generated, unlike in other areas.

They also said the two sites within Hastings Country Park are both currently subject to an agricultural management deal and are not currently accessible to the public.

However the proposals were heavily criticised by the council’s Conservative group leader Rob Lee (Maze Hill). He said: “I don’t think we can possibly begin to support putting solar panels into the country park. It is clearly a mistake and should be retracted at once.

“We may own the country park, but we are stewards of it. It is not there to put in industrial energy creation units. It is not there to build housing. These are things that we must not do in the country park.”

Cllr Lee added that the council should ‘keep the policy simple’ by restraining the scheme to industrial buildings, including a supermarket being built on council-owned land in Bexhill Road.

In return, Cllr Chowney criticised the Conservative government for scrapping the feed-in tariff, which he said made other schemes unappealing as the council would have to ‘give the electricity away to the power companies.’

However he also agreed to add an amendment, prompted by concerns from Cllr Andy Patmore (Con. – Maze Hill), asking officers to formally consult with Natural England before paying for any other studies.

Following a debate, cabinet members voted six to two to approve the amended recommendations.

According to an officer’s report, building the solar farms would be expected to cost the council around £2.1m, potentially bringing in somewhere between £165,000 to £430,000 of extra income each year.

It would also remove around 1,433 tons of carbon emissions annually, the report says.

The report said: “The revenue predictions are conservative, realistic and based on the actual performance of a similar facility at Tangmere Solar Farm [in West Sussex].

“The revenue potential is greater than this and can be determined during the next phase of the project through working with the council’s energy broker, LASER.

“Options for the use of energy will be presented in the detailed business case. Those options will include modelling predicted inflationary pressures on energy prices.”

According to the officer’s report, one of the sites being considered is on council-owned land at Upper Wilting Farm in Crowhurst. The other two would be located on land close to The Milking Parlour in Fairlight.

Further details of the proposals would be expected to considered by council leaders later this year.