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UK’s largest solar park granted consent despite major opposition

Words: Huw Morris
Solar Park

Controversial plans for the UK’s biggest solar park have been approved after the government rejected protests about its effect on the Kent countryside.

Energy secretary Alok Sharma granted the development consent order (DCO) to Cleve Hill solar park, a joint venture between Hive Energy and Wirsol, after attributing substantial weight to the scheme’s renewable energy generation in line with local and national policies on sustainable development. The proposal’s energy storage system was also given significant additional weight in granting the consent.

The 350MW scheme, which will include 880,000 panels with battery storage and connecting infrastructure, will be located on 490 hectares of farmland close to the village of Graveney between Faversham and Whitstable. The £450 million project, which is five times bigger than the largest solar farm at Shotwick, north Wales, will generate power for 91,000 homes and was classified as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP).

The Planning Inspectorate had recommended approving the project after plans to preserve native woodland and scrub by creating a habitat management area were included. Campaigners had protested against the scale and location of the scheme, the loss of farmland, destruction of the landscape and image to wildlife.

Objectors included the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Greenpeace, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and local residents.

Sharma noted that the 490 hectares to be occupied by the scheme includes land for energy storage, habitat mitigation, flood defences, internal tracks and the existing London Array substation, while the area covered by the solar panels would be around 176 hectares. The solar panels would rise to a maximum height above the ground of 3.9 metres.

He referred to the National Policy Statement for Energy which acknowledges that nationally significant energy projects “are very likely to have a negative effect on landscape and visual perception and that these effects may be hard to mitigate”. In Cleve Hill’s case, these adverse effects will be “minimised as far as possible”.

The developers argued the scheme could help cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 68,000 tonnes a year while generating more than £1 million of revenue for the Kent and Swale councils each year for the lifetime of the project. The solar park would also deliver a 65 per cent increase in biodiversity on the intensively farmed site by including open grassland and meadow areas, hedgerows and woodland. Construction of the scheme is expected to start next year with the site operational in 2023.

The decision letter and other related documents can be found on the Planning Inspectorate website.

Image credit | iStock