Judgement day on plans for UK’s biggest solar park due

Article by Gerry Warren, Kent Online 27th May 2020.

The anxiously-awaited decision on whether the UK’s biggest solar park can be built in Kent is due tomorrow.

The Secretary of State for Business, Environment and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, is expected to reveal his verdict on the controversial plans for the one million solar panel development in Graveney.

The proposed Cleve Hill solar park

The minister will have been weighing up the benefits of the Cleve Hill project, which will generate 350 megawatts of ‘clean’ energy to power more than 91,000 homes, with what thousands of objectors say is the environmental devastation of 900 acres of marshland habitat, vital for breeding and migrating birds.

They also have serious safety concerns about a huge lithium battery storage plant the size of 20 football pitches planned for the site to store energy. Opponents claim the battery is at risk of blowing up with the ferocity of a “small nuclear bomb”. 

In recent weeks the company behind the project, Hive Energy, which would be the UK’s biggest solar farm, went on the offensive to press home what it says are its advantages.

It is highlighting the planned measures to support the environment, including what bosses claim will be one of the largest areas of meadow in the south-east.

Other plans include habitat such as grassland, native hedgerows and woodland habitats, all of which will offer “a significant improvement for wildlife in comparison to how the land has been previously intensively farmed.”

The scheme was first proposed in 2017 and has been widely consulted on, culminating in a public inquiry last year. Its findings and recommendation will now be with the minister.

Hive Energy says the decision comes at an important time with the UK becoming the first major economy to pass law to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The company adds: “Cleve Hill Solar Park is a project supported by national policy for onshore renewable energy as well as the government’s Clean Growth Plan and legally binding zero carbon targets.

“The consensus is that action is needed on climate change now. Cleve Hill Solar Park offers a low cost, safe and low carbon way of delivering clean power to thousands of homes and provides a real opportunity for Kent and Swale to meet their zero carbon obligations.”

Objectors fear the decision is “on a knife edge” and have been urging support for a change.org petition against the development launched by the Faversham Society which has already attracted more than 4,000 signatures.

Members are also appealing to objectors to email Mr Sharma direct at Secretary.State@beis.gov.uk.

The scheme is also being opposed by Faversham and Mid-Kent MP Helen Whately and the town council as well as Kent Wildlife Trust and the RSPB.