Council Officers Overruled

By Rick Dillon

Hastings councillors have approved a plan to site 30 solar panels on the roof of the ‘historic’ 162-year-old Christ Church in Ore – despite the objections of the council’s own conservation and planning officers. They voted by 6 to 4 to support the church’s plan to generate renewable energy from the panels, brushing aside what was claimed would be their detrimental effect on the Victorian Grade II listed building.

Church warden Val Smith addressed the meeting with a passionate plea for the panels, which would “visibly send a message that we are an eco church”. The return on the electricity produced via a feed-in tariff would help the church and its community users with their energy bills and also, via a ‘local hub’, help reduce fuel poverty in the area.

Ore councillor Andrew Battley, not a member of the committee, urged fellow members to bear in mind the council’s decision last year to declare a climate emergency – “If we’re truly going to make an impact on climate change as promised, we will have to consider non-traditional sites for the placement of panels. And we should be welcoming proposals of this nature.”

Planning officer Eleanor Evans said that the installation of solar panels on the church hall had been approved but those on the church itself rejected as they would impact both on the character of the area and on a listed building. Conservation officer Jane Hartnell added that the church was “a beautiful building and one of architectural significance”.

Backing the officers, Cllr Phill Scott argued that the panels on so prominent a building, situated at the junction of several roads, would be a distraction to motorists.

What followed was rare cross-party support when Conservative Cllr Mike Edwards joined Labour’s Warren Davies in backing the solar plan.

Cllr Davies said he wanted to focus on the stonework of the building, not the slate roof, which had anyway been replaced 20 years previously. He said he was a big fan of the noted Victorian art critic and social thinker John Ruskin, who during his day had bemoaned the effect that smoke and pollution was having on historic structures. The result, years later, were regulations designed to reduce the effect of emissions on stonework. “How paradoxical,” he added, “that we are rejecting the very thing that will protect this structure”.

Cllr Edwards reminded councillors of the early days of television, when TV aerials first began to appear on people’s roofs and had drawn complaints from some members of the public. And more recently aerials had been joined on roofs by Sky satellite dishes, even on church roofs. “We needed to meet our commitments to tackle climate change”, he said, adding: “Solar panels are going to be a feature of the street scene, and pretty soon we won’t even notice them.”

A vote was taken and the planning committee approved the scheme by six votes to four. In support were Cllrs Davies, Edwards, Heather Bishop, Ruby Cox, Margi O’Callaghan and Trevor Webb. Against: Cllrs Phil Scott, Sorrell Marlow-Eastwood, Matthew Beaver and Alan Roberts.

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