From: Michael Moor, Chairman, Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve, The Croft, Hastings
The headline of your editorial of January 11, commenting on the council’s plan for an industrial scale solar farm, said “Hastings Country Park is not the place for energy sites”. The editorial concluded that “Natural England must be consulted on these plans. We can only hope that it stands strong”.
Under pressure from over 1,300 local residents, the council did approach Natural England, as the regulator for protected landscapes like our Country Park. Although Natural England said in response that there was not enough detail in the council’s proposal for them to give a formal view at this stage, it did indeed stand strong in its more detailed comments.
For example, it quoted the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework back to the council that for areas like our Country Park “this landscape should be afforded the highest status of protection in relation to the conservation and enhancement of landscape and scenic beauty”, and that “all development within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty should be limited in scale and extent”.
The framework also says that major development within an AONB should be refused other than in exceptional circumstances.
Faced with powerful and potentially game-changing comments like this from the regulator, one might expect that the council would pause and think, and possibly take more advice. But no.
Natural England offered its Discretionary Advice Service to the council which enables developers to take account of environmental considerations at an early stage to help save time and money in the long term. The council, however, is just pushing ahead with its plan to use £80,000 of council taxpayers’ money to fund “a business study” on the proposal for the solar panel installation.
It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that certain councillors are turning a deaf ear to anything which they don’t want to be told, and that the lure of the council possibly making some money from the project is over-riding their judgement.
And it’s difficult to avoid using the word ‘reckless’ to describe the path the council still seems set on.