You have until 11:59 pm on Monday 28th January 2019 to register objections.
The Planning Inspectorate has now accepted the planning application and there will be a public enquiry. Whilst the developer has made some minor changes to the original proposal the Faversham Society's view has not changed.
The Faversham Society enthusiastically supports the development of all forms of renewable energy. We recognise the importance of using wind, solar and tidal technologies for power generation to reduce the use of carbon fuels and meet the UK commitments to reduce levels of greenhouse gasses. However, we have grave concerns about the negative environmental and amenity impact of the solar power station being proposed at Cleve Hill and across the surrounding marshes. There are alternative brownfield sites available, and distributed generation is both possible and more desirable.
Those concerns are:
> Unprecedented scale.
What is being proposed on the outskirts of our town is an extremely large industrial development, as big if not now bigger, than Faversham itself. A development of this scale cannot fail to have a profound negative effect on the environment and reduce the economic and amenity value to those both living in and using the area.
The developers have included a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the seawall, the latter to enable the developer to negotiate with the Environment Agency in order to mitigate the risk of managed retreat on the operator’s assets. (panels, batteries and other industrial plant) This has enabled the developer to now claim that the panels will only cover 55% of the site (as if this in some way reduces their impact) and to include the extra land and the SSSI as part of their calculations concerning the benefit to the environment that they suggest the power station will create. This raises serious issues regarding responsibilities and wider governance.
The developer has not clearly specified what battery technology will be used. This is emerging technology still being developed and tested. It is not unreasonable to have concerns about the health and safety aspects of this new technology. There will be 00mwh of battery storage capacity. The battery storage area will be surrounded by a ~4.6m high bund to prevent flooding.
These marshes are a protective floodplain for Faversham. The seawall is currently the responsibility of the Environment Agency and therefore under democratic control. If the Agency were to delegate responsibility to the operators of the site for the flood defences, they would be able to raise the height of the wall at will in order to protect their assets. We have concerns about the impact of insulating such a large area of land from inundation – most particularly on increasing the flood risk in Faversham town – already prone to flooding. The marsh area has long been a coastal floodplain protecting Faversham.
>The governance of the SSSI
We are concerned that the enlargement of the site puts the future of an important SSSI into the hands of a power company. We know that the way that SSSIs are managed is critical and without oversight, by a public body we are not confident that the incentives of the developer and operator would ensure the long-term protection of the site. The SSSI appears to have been included to assist the developer in increasing the biodiversity of the site merely by acquiring land already managed for diversity.
> The Height of the Solar Panels
The Solar Panels will vary in height up to 3.9 m above ground level and will be dark blue, grey or black in colour. The panels will extend over 176.3399 ha or 436 acres or 218 football pitches.
A Lonon Routemaster is 4.38m high.
The Historic Environment Desk Based Assessment commissioned by the developer reveals that the site and its immediate environs make an important contribution to the historical and cultural setting of the town and that the creation of a large power station – albeit solar – would ignore Faversham’s historical importance and compromise the setting of the town and its neighbouring villages to the north, Graveney and Goodnestone. We have evidence of medieval saltings and of a historically significant duck shoot that would be obliterated by the panels. We have seen no assessment of the damage to the archaeology of the area covered by the site.
>Noise & Disruption
The Faversham Society is concerned about the level of disruption that will occur during construction and continue during the normal running of the power station. Although there is some technical detail, we have seen little intelligible analysis of the cumulative level of noise generated by the inverters, transformers, battery packs and other elements of the energy production process.
>Access & Traffic
This is a very large site that would not only be covered with new solar installations but would also require substantial works to provide the roads, new ditches and the electrical plant – including a substantial compound for battery storage. The Faversham Society is concerned that the roads to the site, in particular, Head Hill Road and Seasalter Road are not suitable for the weight and frequency of traffic required to transport such a high volume of materials and equipment to the site. We are unclear about future responsibilities for road maintenance, repair and general restitution.
The site forms part of the North Kent Marshes Environmentally Sensitive Area. It is also directly adjacent to the Swale Ramsar site which is designated because it has an important assemblage of bird and plant species. The site will also affect the Swale Special Protection Area and the Swale Site of Special Scientific Interest, the South Swale Nature Reserve and the Swale Estuary Marine Conservation Area and on the opposite side of Faversham Creek, the Oare Marshes Nature Reserve managed by the Kent Wildlife Trust.
>Soil & Soil Erosion
Developers propose to create what they have called ‘grazing land’ under the panels with a mix of grasses and wildflower They propose the grazing of sheep. Even if this were to prove possible, such plans are less than adequate compensation for the loss of such a large, grazing marsh so productive of wildlife.
>Landscape, Amenity and Economic Value
The site forms part of a Kent Area of High Landscape Value and a Swale Area of High Landscape Value. The site is visible from long distances including Wraik Hill on the A299 at Whitstable, from Estuary View, from Boughton Hill on the A2 and from Oare village to the west of Faversham Creek – all which have extensive views encompassing the whole marsh, grazing land, fruit farms and orchards. It is an area of high amenity and economic value.
The Faversham and Graveney Marshes ‘brand’ attracts a large number of visitors – whether interested in history, marine life, birds or general recreational walking – to this part of Swale. Although developers assert that for Kent the impact will be negligible, we have seen no analysis of the short and longer economic impact the development will have on Faversham and the businesses that support and service our visitors.
The Saxon Shore Way runs along the top of the seawall, and so any walker from Faversham to Seasalter would start by looking along the parallel ranks of solar panels and then as they turn east looking over row after row of panels stretching east to west to the back of the marsh. The monotony would only be relieved as walkers passed gaps for the spine road and the drainage ditches. At the eastern end of the site, walkers’ next view would be the battery compound and sub-station across the grazing marsh. Walking the Saxon Shore Way from the Seasalter Road end, there would be views of the sub-station and other works and across the marsh towards the solar panels extending to the sea wall. New security fencing and surveillance is also expected to be installed along all footpaths which would add to the unsightliness and serve to intensify the hostile industrialised atmosphere across the marshes. The character of all of these well established and much-used footpaths that are part of the Saxon Shore Way would be changed beyond recognition.
As we have made clear, this unprecedentedly large solar power station will have a profound negative impact on the people that live in Faversham and the surrounding villages. Although it is these local people who will suffer the losses if this development goes ahead, it appears that as currently conceived, it provides no direct benefit for them either in the short or long term.
That lack of attention to what in other large development schemes would be known as ‘planning gain’, demonstrates the lack of regard or concern that developers and builders of the Cleve Hill solar power station have for the interests of the people of Faversham and the surrounding villages.
We have until 11:59 pm on Monday 28th January 2019 to register objections.
The Society will be registering as an objector. We urge as many people as possible to register their views. This development will fundamentally change our environment and local voices must be heard. Remember that anyone can express a view - it is not limited to one
representation per household
There is more detail on the Society views here