I attended a consultation meeting on Thursday in the Graveney Village Hall. It was organised by the developers in order to show elected officials the latest thinking about the proposed development. This is part of a second phase of consultations – the developers did the first phase in December last year.
The first phase of consultations were based on the sketchy information that was initially presented by the developers. This included a survey which asked questions such as ‘do you approve of solar?’ and ‘do you think our consultation is informative?’ but failed to ask questions such as ‘do you approve of this proposal?’.
Having concluded the first phase of consultations, the developers have ‘listened’ to what has been said. They noted that “many people wanted more information” – perhaps not surprising given how vague the initial information provided has been.
The consultation meeting was a bit strange. No introductions happened. The audience consisted of the local MP, a few people from the Parish Council, a planning person from Swale, someone from Canterbury City Council, our local parish and county councillor and a couple more people. The five people from the developers (two directors, the PR person, and two folk from the environmental consultants) went through a series of powerpoint slides.
They have been developing and evolving their ideas about the development:
- In some areas they are “shaving back” some of the panels to improve the visual aspect.
- In other areas they are adding more – specifically near the pylons that run across the marshes.
- They are planning to have 26 “fields” or “development parcels” each with deer fencing around it.
- There are some vague ideas about adding screening here and there made up of “native shrubby woodland”.
- There could be some information panels erected.
- There was a suggestion that there would be 3 or 4 security guards present 24 hours a day.
- Analysis of flooding probability has been done based on the predicted sea level in 2070 and a possible breach in the sea wall of 100m
- They’re talking with bodies such as Natural England, Kent Wildlife Trust and the RSPB and setting up some sort of habitat management group.
At all times the developers talk about this proposal as “when” not “if”. There is no doubt in their minds that it will actually happen. This is despite the fact that it has to be approved at government level by the Secretary of State in a decision that probably won’t happen until November 2019.
The weirdest part of the evening was when one of the directors got enthusiastic about the possibilities of developing pathways through the 26 development parcels to allow walking and mountain biking along the public rights of way. One thing he said stood out for me. Having clearly been in the area recently, he said that “it’s a wonderful place to walk”. This is the only thing I’ve heard from the developers that I can agree with 100%.
Will it really be “a wonderful place to walk” once millions of solar panels are installed across 900 acres of remarkable landscape in what is the biggest, industrialised, deployment in the whole of Europe? Perhaps the information panels that they talked about will make all the difference!?
If you’re a “near neighbour” you’ll get the one-on-one second phase of consultation soon via a dedicated meeting with the developers. People in what they call “the outer zone” will be able to attend one of the next public meetings which will be scheduled for the end of April. We’ll keep you informed when and where these are as soon as the information is available.