Council planning officers recommend refusal of solar park on agricultural land at Hengrove Farm

Solar farm proposal

A plan to create a 30MW solar farm on land at Hengrove Farm in Margate will be discussed by Thanet councillors next week.

The solar farm off Shottendane Road would comprise two parcels of land, one bound by Manston Road and the other bound by Woodchurch Road.

The site is currently in arable agricultural use, producing a variety of crops.

Industria Solar Hengrove Ltd say the proposed 41.55 hectares  solar farm would be in operation for 40 years and provide enough energy to meet the annual needs of 9,458 homes.

The company says this save approximately 6,114 tonnes of carbon emissions per year and would include planting of native species hedgerows, woodland belt, wildflower meadows, and a pond to attract wildlife.

Substations, transformer, workshop and storage container, plus  security fencing and 56 CCTV cameras and associated infrastructure would also be created.

The solar panels would be bifacial, meaning they also absorb light from the underside, even if it is reflected light from the ground or nearby structures. Industria say bifacial panels are more land efficient as less panels are required to generate the required output.

The construction period would be expected to last approximately five months.

Proposed solar farm site (Image Wardell Armstrong)

However, planning officers at Thanet council have recommended the application is refused, saying it will: “result in substantial harm to the rural and unspoilt open character and distinctive landscape qualities of the countryside” and “would fail to secure adequate mitigation/compensatory habitat to offset the loss of farmland bird habitat, resulting in significant harm to biodiversity.”

Natural England says it may object unless there is further information supplied about mitigation measures because “the application could have potential significant effects on the Thanet Coast and Sandwich Bay Special Protection Area (SPA).”

The organisation adds: “We consider that the proposed development, if temporary as described, is unlikely to lead to significant permanent loss of BMV agricultural land, as a resource for future generations.

“This is because the solar panels would be secured to the ground with limited soil disturbance and could be removed in the future with no permanent loss of agricultural land quality likely to occur, provided the appropriate soil management is employed and the development is undertaken to high standards.

“Although some components of the development, such as construction of a sub-station, may permanently affect agricultural land this would be limited to small areas of BMV agricultural land.

“However, if during the life of the proposed development it is likely that there will be a reduction in agricultural production over the whole development area, your authority should consider whether this is an effective use of land.”

(Image Wardell Armstrong)

The British Horse Society has also objected over the loss of public bridleways.

It says: “Kent is a county with a dense population of horse owners with over 40,000 horses passported to addresses within Kent with 1,100 of these with owners living within the Thanet District Council area.

“The area around Birchington is especially densely populated with horses. The cost of keeping these Thanet owned horses results in a contribution to the economy of over £6 million per annum, much of which will be spent within the district (feed merchants, hay suppliers, livery yards, etc).

“Just 16.7% of public rights of way in Kent are available to equestrians and much of that is disconnected by roads which were once quiet, rural roads and are now busy thoroughfares as a result of massive development in the region.

“Consequently, it is imperative, especially with significant developments of this nature, that existing equestrian access is fiercely protected and new bridleways/byways and good connections to other potential future equestrian routes are provided as a part of the project.

“It should be recalled that higher status public rights of way provide the opportunity for safe exercise for more members of the local community, in particular women (who form the majority of equestrians) and those who are less able bodied meaning provision of this nature provides improved safety, health and wellbeing benefits for the widest range of users.

“Bridleways are therefore an even more inclusive form of public highway than walking and cycling routes.”

The Society says three public bridleways are directly impacted by the application, adding: “Any development of this area needs to ensure that PROW are kept open and safe to use for all users with any closures being minimal and with reinstatement being to at least the same.

“Whilst we applaud efforts to provide renewable energy, we feel that this project is currently missing the opportunity to optimise the recreational use of the existing and future public rights of way for as many local people as possible.”

Kent County Council also raises public right of way issues and biodiversity, particularly mitigation for Skylark, saying: “A peak count of 35 skylark territories were identified within the final red-line boundary during the breeding bird surveys.”

The applicant highlights that Thanet council declared a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency in July 2019 and aims to make the district carbon neutral by 2030.

Documents add: “Solar farms can be constructed quickly on land under just one or a few ownership titles, significantly boosting the renewable energy generated in the UK in the short term rather than relying on a large number of owners or associations to be in a position to consider roof-mounted panels, particularly in times of economic hardship.

“The temporary nature of large-scale solar farms allows to speed up the transition of UK domestic renewable energy sources whilst other sources, such as offshore wind farms, are enhanced or developed.

“The proposed solar farm would be operational for a temporary period of 40 years, after which it would be decommissioned, and the site restored to full agricultural use.

“During this period, the solar farm would generate 30MW of electricity every year. This is enough to power 9,458 homes annually and is the equivalent of offsetting 6,114 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

“The proposed development would significantly support the goals of and contribute to both local and national Climate Change targets, as well as result in substantial improvements for local wildlife.

“Temporary solar farms not only provide the benefit of renewable energy generation but also contribute towards a greener and more secure domestic energy system. The proposed solar farm in Thanet would provide all of these benefits which are encouraged and enshrined in legal obligations and strategies at both the national and local level.”

The applicant also says: “Solar farms are considered to support the protection of BMV land and ensure the food security needs of the future are supported as global temperatures likely increase over the coming decades.

“Farming costs have also increased significantly recently in terms of spiralling machinery costs, fertiliser costs, sprays (fungicides and herbicides), fuel, and labour costs (due to labour shortages).

“The solar farm would help diversify the farming business, reducing the risk of farming by incorporating a steady and medium/long-term income stream with which to support the agricultural business’ food production and associated rural employment. This approach is also supported by the National Farmers Union.”

Solar panels

Thanet council planning officers say: “There is support at both national and local level for the principle of this type of development. The proposal would address climate change issues and support the transition to a low carbon future and weight is given to the significant environmental benefits of the scheme in relation to the creation of renewable energy and this dimension of sustainable development.

“The benefits associated with renewable energy in terms of health and water conservation are also acknowledged. The scheme would also have considerable biodiversity and ecology benefits in terms of Biodiversity Net Gain and associated green infrastructure enhancements.

“However, the environmental harm to the rural undeveloped character of the site and landscape of the area in this highly sensitive and prominent location, in addition to the scale of loss of good agricultural land for the life of the development which is assessed as 40 years, would be highly significant.

“Taking all of the information submitted in support of the application and the advice of consultees into consideration it is the Officer’s view that, on balance, the environmental harm arising from the significant visual impact outweighs the environmental climate change benefits.”

Industria Solar Hengrove Ltd is part of Industria Brand Energy Ltd – a renewable energy development company that works with landowners around the UK. The site would be leased long-term to Industria Solar Hengrove Ltd, giving the landowner a  long-term form of income.

The Industria website says land rental agreements result in a £1.5m upfront payment ‘based on a compliant solar farm’ and the creation of 100+ jobs during the construction phase.

The application will be discussed by Thanet council’s planning committee on May 22.

20 Comments

  1. So it is alright to build a Thousand or so Houses on Arable land, but not allow Solar Panels, which would contribute to the National Grid, I just don’t get it, with this Labour run Council.

    • Stop being thick, it was the Torries that forced all these houses through and the Torries that stopped them being build on brownfield sites such as the failed and disused Manston site.

      • I’m not too sure who is the ‘thick’ one here, RL.
        The Conservatives are colloquially known as Tories, being the plural of Tory .
        Please be a bit friendlier in future correspondences.

      • Not sure who is the Thick and illiterate one here, but at least mine is readable, read your post again, then ask yourself, who is the Thick one,(Build, should have been Built, Torries, he played for Liverpool, some time ago.

  2. Solar and wind are the two technologies that can reverse global warming. It is hypocritical to object to the Minster Marsh’s project yet to stop onshore solar panels. We seem to have a lot of antediluvians in Thanet!

  3. This decision to NOT allow the solar farm is a good one. We have ample space for solar panels on our roofs. We just need a government that is prepared tp subsidise the installation of panels on millions of houses, maybe using long- term government loans. With the money we save in energy bills byproducing our own electricity, we should be able to afford it.One problem with huge solar farms is that they are owned by private firms that can then milk us by charging us to buy the energy. Like now. But roof-top panels allow each household to produce its own power. It is a choice. Will local and national governments prioritise letting private firms print their own money or will they encourage the private citizens to benefit from this new technology. I’m not holding my breath.

  4. Must not put solar panels in a field fir two reasons, it goes against there green policy, a complete opposite to the highest polluting form of travel in an airfield, and might need that land to turn into a concrete jungle when they build homes on it to match the rest of thanet.

  5. when is thanet going to be handed back to the locals so sick of building works road closure diversion going nowhere angry drivers for delays etc why did we not insist that all new houses should be fitted with solar panels that way there would be no need for using fields and destroying the little habitat thats left in the area. It sickens me to see the destruction of all the trees being removed and concrete going up in its place in this area and who are all these properties going up help certainly not my son and family as they are to costly even to consider when hes paying £1200 a month rent what chance have they and any other person got of saving a deposit and getting a mortgage.Please stop this carnage of what was once a nice place to live

  6. When are the population of Thanet going to wake up to us losing all of this arable / farm land to new housing and solar panels ?
    Everywhere you go in Thanet now is new buildings / houses without a thought for how it will affect the food chain
    Kent is known as the garden of England but not for much longer with the way things are going
    Where will we get our food from in the near future if all of our land is being used not for growing local food
    People will object to food being brought in as cargo to Manston airport if it ever gets off the ground ( sorry about the pun) but soon they won’t have the option of buying locally produced food ,thats apart from mass produced tomatoes from Thanet Earth

  7. You can’t put solar panels on perfectly good agricultural land that we can cover in rabbit hutch houses !!

    The cheek of it !

  8. I must correct you Thanetion blind, poorly built rabbit hutch houses, due to inferior building materials compared to homes which were built 30 years ago plus

  9. So, Westgate and Birchington, if there is any consistency and logic to the way TDC planners make decisions, the magic words are “ the environmental harm to the rural undeveloped character of the site and landscape of the area in this highly sensitive and prominent location, in addition to the scale of loss of good agricultural land for ever, would be highly significant.”.
    Then the planning officer will write “ on balance, the environmental harm arising from the significant visual impact of 1,000’s of houses outweighs the environmental and other benefits.”
    Anyone care for a bet?

  10. Do you think the government and our precious MPs care about the environmental impact of there decisions, look at what they are trying to do at the multiple times failed airfield and the building work which is out of control in thanet. Elections are coming, if this country has any common sense following 14 years of regression, there will not be one tory MP left in Westminster. Use your vote everyone.

  11. This makes me so angry sola farm’s. Really do not understand why this is happening.
    We all live somewhere being private home, council home,residential home,one thing in common they all have a roof orsome 2 some flat some quite elaborate ones popping up now days but we all have a roof so why is it people who own let’s say care homes put panels up, god knows thier fears would cover the cost of installing them 90% of roof can have sola panels. And it’s unbelievable that government own and ran buildings do not have any at all.
    We do not need to load up our farmland at all but I think the real reason here is put them in a field share hold line thier pockets and make billions profit. If the government made it and help cover the cost to the property owner Compulsory for every roof to have panels to fun that property no share holder make a penny but know TDC and all local and national governments would be happy killing off out wild life and human then in return.
    And yes we do have sola panels

  12. A solution is pretty easy to see with all the new homes being built here and across the country why are we not legislating that all new build homes are fitted with solar panels is not a way to ease global warming and households cutting sky high electricity bills and carbon emissions, lets face it houses have roofs most made of concrete putting panels on the top will also cut heat loss only slightly and the extra cost when building/buying the house is recooped buy cheaper electricity within a short time depending on usage. Plus the manufactur of the panels etc would make more employment in that trade even more fitters.

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