What is it?
Cleve Hill Solar Park is a massive proposed £450 million development of solar photovoltaic panels on protected marshland near Graveney, just a mile outside Faversham.
How big is it?
Unprecedentedly huge. Nothing approaching this scale has ever been attempted in the UK before. It will cover an area of approximately 360 hectares (890 acres or 600 football pitches) making it approximately five times larger than any other UK solar power station. A walk around the perimeter would be three miles long.
What will it look like?
The proposal is for east/west facing panels which means the rows can be installed much closer together.
Because the site is a flood plain, the 880,000 solar panels will be mounted 3.9m high – tall enough to park a double decker bus underneath. The-two-and-a-half-mile structure, resembling a vast factory roof, will completely cover the grassy marshland below.
How will it affect the landscape?
It will trash an environmentally important ecosystem with bird life including Marsh Harriers, Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Lapwing and Skylark. An official Biodiversity Operational Area, the site is currently one of the most protected in Kent. It is surrounded by habitats designated for their wildlife value at a national and international level and bordered by the historic Saxon Shore Way footpath along the Swale.
The site is attractive to the developer because it is cheap and convenient for connection to the grid via the existing London Array offshore wind farm.
Who is behind it?
The project is a partnership between Hive Energy and Wirsol, part of a German company.
What is the response?
Environmental groups are united against the project, which has been described as ‘the industrialisation of rural Kent’. Although broadly in favour of solar power, they are alarmed by the industrial scale and impact of a solar power station of this size.
“The proposals will result in significant impacts on wildlife and are unacceptable,” said Greg Hitchcock of the Kent Wildlife Trust.
Ans according the The Faversham Society, “The proposal would have a destructive impact on this landscape.”
Are there any positives for Faversham?
In a word: No. The developers have made it clear there will be no benefits, we will not get cheap electricity and there will be no employment opportunities. In fact, the potential is that there will only be negatives for Faversham and surrounding areas, since the area may no longer be attractive to bird watchers or tourists, to the detriment of the local economy.
What’s the latest?
The colossal scale of the plant makes it a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, outside the normal planning process. The decision to approve would normally lie with the Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark. However, since Clark is a Kent MP, potential conflicts of interest mean another decision-maker may be appointed.
The deadline to submit comments as an ‘interested party’ to the Planning Inspectorate passed back in January. That was followed by closed meeting on the 6th March to update approved ‘elected members’. These included representatives from GREAT (Graveney Rural Environment Action Team), who act as Faversham’s community representatives.
What happens next?
A ‘preliminary meeting’ is expected sometime in May when deadlines – usually 2-3 weeks –will be announced for more detailed written representations.
From that point, the independent examining authority has six months to complete its ‘examination’ – similar to a Public Enquiry – followed by another three months to draft a report and recommendation to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State then has 3 months to make a final decision, probably in early 2020.
What’s being done to minimize the project’s impact?
Developers have promised a small, 34-acre reduction in the size of the power station to add to what they call the ‘habitat management area’ and some additional hedgerow planting. They say there will be a traffic plan to avoid local schools’ start and finish times and a consultation with the Environment Agency about mitigating the flood risk.
Is it a done deal?
Taking on huge proposal by wealthy international companies may be a David and Goliath battle for local campaigners but it’s not over ‘til it’s over.
Environmentally damaging power station schemes can be – and have been – turned down.
A proposal to build 27 onshore turbines east of Aberystwyth was rejected in 2015 despite the Planning Inspectorate’s Examiners recommending approval.
Then Secretary of State Amber Rudd refused the Mynydd y Gwynt Wind Farm application because of concerns about the potential fate of red kites and the developer’s failure to provide information about its international obligations.
Save Graveney Marshes
Developers page: www.clevehillsolar.com