On 3 January Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye, launched a petition with Change.org to challenge HBC’s proposal to install two solar farms at the Milking Parlour within Hastings Country Park. At the time of our going to press it had garnered over 800 signatories towards a target of 1,000

As former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change before becoming Home Secretary and (since November) Secretary for Work and Pensions, Ms Rudd can hardly dispute the principle of encouraging solar energy to replace fossil fuels within her own constituency. And she doesn’t: introducing her petition, she acknowledges that “solar energy has been a fantastic source of clean energy. I welcome its use on roofs, brown field sites & areas of land such as near motorways. As Secretary of State for Energy I oversaw its continued growth.”

But she goes on to argue that it should not be done in the natural environment of the Country Park, giving the following reasons:

• “It would destroy up to 10 acres of the Country Park which is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 

• The income that the Council has predicted that it will make from the scheme is wholly unreliable.

• There has been no consultation with local people including the Country Parks Management Forum about the scheme.

• It sets a dangerous precedent for development in the Country Park.”

Chair of the Friends of the Country Park Nature Reserve, Michael Moor, issued a statement last Saturday on the Friends’ website encouraging members to sign the petition.  He complained that his committee had only got to hear of the proposal four days before, i.e. less than a week before the HBC cabinet were due to debate the issue with the intention of committing up to £80,000 on initial investigations. Referring to the Council’s own Development Management plan adopted in 2015 to keep the Country Park as “Hastings’ area of true countryside… an area where the natural environment is of paramount importance”, he said that the council’s proposal would be a violation of this principle.

Local Conservative councillors Rob Lee and Andy Patmore have argued against the scheme – see the report on page 3 of the council cabinet meeting.

Hastings Green Party also released a statement welcoming HBC’s commitment to creating local renewable energy but saying that they have serious reservations about siting the solar panels in the Country Park. “Recently Peter Chowney gave his support for Hastings making a bid for UNESCO world heritage status. How does this square with siting a solar farm on the cliff tops?”

They criticised the council for “yet again the complete lack of any prior consultation with local people…Surely it would make sense to sound out all the bodies that would have to be consulted on such a scheme before committing £80,000 feasibility studies.” And roof space across the town – for example on various industrial estates and sites like the Conquest Hospital – should be sought rather than “industrialising” the Country Park.

Eve Montgomery of Hastings and Rye Liberal Democrats made similar points. “In principle, initiatives supporting sustainability should be encouraged. However

renewable energy projects should not override all other objectives. They should be sensitive to their impact on landscape, wildlife and agricultural land, all of which contribute to sustainability and biodiversity. There are many existing roofs in Hastings owned by public institutions, including HBC itself, which could be looked at first, such as the TK Maxx building. Even a big Aldi supermarket that hasn’t been built yet”. 

She also criticised the Council’s “appalling” process. “They do not seem to have fully consulted their internal departments, in particular planning. Nor have they yet tried to get any informal views from the parish or county councils or the AONB. Instead they are rushing ahead to pay thousands to external consultants”.

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