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Solar farm at Owl’s Hatch Road near Herne given go-ahead

Sheep could still graze among the solar panels
Sheep could still graze among the solar panels
One of Britain’s biggest solar farms – capable of powering the whole of Herne Bay – has controversially won planning permission. The scheme, on land near Herne, will cover 212 acres – an area the equivalent of almost 150 football pitches.

Developers claim their complex of photovoltaic panels will generate enough electricity to supply 14,000 homes. Rows of panels standing 2.4 metres high, all tilted at a 22 degree angle, will apparently harness the sun’s power as sheep graze on grass beneath but owners of neighbouring farms and properties are not so convinced.

They claim the vast development on land south of Owl’s Hatch Road will cause an irreparable blot on the landscape as well exacerbating flood problems in the area. Unusually, Canterbury City Council’s officers were unable to decide whether to recommend granting or refusing permission.

Ultimately the planning committee decided by seven votes to three to grant the scheme for a 25-year period. Chris Crook, speaking on behalf of the landowner Hollamby Estates, spoke of a “need” for the scheme. OfGem, regulator of the gas and electricity markets, had issued its starkest warning yet of blackouts by 2016, he said.

This [development] will generate sufficient power to supply the whole of Herne Bay. The farm has severe limitations and is only suited to grass and arable. It’s not viable commercially as a farm.

The field where a solar panel farm could be built
The field where a solar panel farm could be built

He added that the 86-hectare site was ideal because the land could be put to dual use as a sheep grazing pasture and because the level of objection was “minimal for a scheme of this size”. The scheme was a scaled down version of proposals submitted to the council previously, which had sought to develop a further 20 acres on a nearby farm.

Angus McDonald, managing director of British Solar Renewables, the applicant, spoke briefly and described the farm as “a significant community benefit”. Members of the planning committee appeared torn. Peter Vickery-Jones, councillor for Herne and Broomfield ward, pointed out that “there are no statutory bodies that found any objection to it”. He also joked:

This [land] is a holy grail for fly-tippers. If it’s good enough for fly-tipping, it’s good enough to call it remote.

Neil Baker, councillor for Tankerton ward, said his instinct told him he should be against it, but that “25 years in the grand scheme of human development is but a blink of an eye”. He said:

With a potential supply of 14,000 homes, on balance I don’t like it, but I’ll vote for it.

But others vowed to oppose the proposals. Ashley Clark, councillor for Whitstable’s Gorrell ward, said:

This is a blot on the landscape. It’s quite clear that the degree of mitigation does not go far enough. There’s always pie in the sky. Once lost, it is lost forever.

Councillors were ultimately swayed by the conditions attached to the permission – including that the farm be dismantled after 25 years and that council officers be satisfied that concerns about flooding were properly addressed.

In April last year authorities in Lincolnshire reportedly granted developers permission to build a solar farm over 310 acres in size. The farm, at the old RAF base in Faldingworth near Lincoln, is thought to be Britain’s largest.

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