Local Solar Panels

By David Dennis 

Should we site solar panel farms on greenfield sites?  Certainly Hastings Borough Council (HBC) thinks we should. Councillor Andy Batsford has confirmed that there are active proposals to site solar panels at Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve, Upper Wilting Farm at Crowhurst, in several fields above Filsham Reed Beds SSSI, and in fields either side of ancient woodland at Lower Wilting. Furthermore, when the Combe Haven tip has ‘settled’ in a few years’ time, then panels will be set on the south face of that giant hill of historically unregulated rubbish set in the middle of beautiful Combe Valley Countryside Park with its 3,000 identified wildlife species. This tip, it has been discovered from DEFRA documents, also butts up against the Combe Haven winter floodplain area called ‘Tier 1’ – the green field recreation ground proposed as the site of 190 homes on Bexhill Road near Bulverhythe.

The BBC reports that: “In 2018, the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] reported that emissions of carbon dioxide need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 to keep the rise in global temperatures under 1.5C. Getting to that point requires a rapid decarbonisation of the energy sector. The UK has committed to Net Zero emissions by 2050 which will require the deployment of wind and solar on a massive scale.”

Councillor Maya Evans, the ecology spokesperson for HBC, wrote an article last month in HIP 138 setting out the reasons for its drive towards solar energy, but also setting ‘red lines’ to highlight some of dangers of installation. The Chair of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve has rebutted her ideas and her ‘red lines’ in an Open Letter to the council – see the abridged version below.

Each of the sites chosen imposes an element of disruption to nature and loss of landscape. For example, the fields chosen at Lower Wilting will make the area into a glass forest either side of an area being actively protected by the Woodland Trust. The fields selected at Upper Wilting have the main gas pipelines for this part of East Sussex running through them. The recent solar panel farm at Catsfield used pile driving to form anchors for the panels. Having seen the gas main maps, I am sure that pile driving over gas mains is not a good idea. A truly colossal explosion would result. British Gas officials already inspect those fields every two months, concerned that even tree-planting or digging of drainage ditches could damage the mains. Maybe concrete plinths would have to be used instead? This in turn would remove nature carbon-absorbing soils, thus lessening the benefit from the panels. It is understood that the solar units are on wheeled trolleys and have a ten-year life. In the case of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve, the protest letters sent to Amber Rudd by 1,500 people and her own campaign to stop the solar development appear to have come to nothing. Solar everywhere seems to be the battle cry.

Cllr Batsford tells me: “We are in the middle of a real climate emergency and we must as a town look to use all means to reduce its carbon footprint. This may involve using our parks in a temporary way to make a real difference to this challenge.”

The trouble is that we are also in the middle of a wildlife emergency which includes the mass death of pollinating bees. We know that the housing crisis is causing councils to use up pollinator-rich greenfield sites across UK at a rapid rate. Now the drive for solar panels is doing the same. What do we do as a nation? Can we ever have a total ban on the use of greenfield sites? Certainly a petition was raised in parliament to that end – to ban the use of greenfield sites forever. I signed it. But the government has just written individually to those who signed petition 267197 telling them it is not just suspended but totally cancelled and will not be re-opened, because of the General Election – see my report on page 3. In the end it is down to the Brexit-frayed and wearied British public to tell their politicians what they really want – and hope to be listened to.

ALL PICTURES: David Dennis

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