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All you need to know about plans to build UK's biggest solar farm near Faversham

Since plans to build the UK's biggest solar park were revealed, residents have wanted to know more about the controversial scheme.

A government-appointed enquiry into the proposed huge solar farm near Faversham is expected to last six months.

Below many of their questions are answered as we delve into the ins and outs of the proposals.

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Helen Whately is against the solar farm proposals
Helen Whately is against the solar farm proposals

What do they want to build?

The UK’s largest solar park. Electricity generated will be fed into a new energy storage facility - or what is essentially a huge battery - built on the site.

How big will it be?

The whole project site covers almost five million square metres (491 hectares) of land at Graveney, near Faversham.

It can be divided into four existing land use types – arable land (79%), freshwater grazing marsh (7%), flood defences (12%), and the existing Cleve Hill sub-station (2%).

387 hectares of the site will host the park, which will be covered with 880,000 solar panels - some raised as high as 3.9 metres because of flood risks.

Helen Whately organising anti-solar farm protest/meeting at Graveney church. View of proposed solar farm..All Saints Church, Graveney, Faversham, ME13 9EB.Picture: Andy Jones. (11402030)
Helen Whately organising anti-solar farm protest/meeting at Graveney church. View of proposed solar farm..All Saints Church, Graveney, Faversham, ME13 9EB.Picture: Andy Jones. (11402030)

Who’s behind the plan?

A new company called Cleve Hill Solar Park Limited. It’s a joint venture between two solar energy firms – Hive Energy Ltd and Wirsol Energy Ltd.

In 2015 Hive developed what was then the largest solar park in the UK, Southwick Estate Solar Farm in Hampshire.

Wirsol has built and operates 24 solar parks in the UK, and five in Australia.

Why build it?

CHSPL says the project will contribute to the UK’s need for affordable low carbon technologies to protect UK homes and businesses from high energy costs.

How much will the project cost and who is paying for it?

The whole project will cost an estimated £450 million, including £50 million on land.

Development costs will be covered by CHSPL’s cash reserves.

Construction costs will be funded through a combination of equity and debt finance.

How is it different from other solar parks?

It is about five times bigger than anything else currently built or planned in the UK.

It is also of a very different design to other solar developments – rather than south-facing panels, they will face east and west, meaning they can be installed much closer together.

Who owns the land?

The majority is owned by the Goodman family.

CHSPL has been in talks with the family, their agents and lawyers for more than three years,

A deal was struck in 2016 securing the land rights needed for the majority of the project site.

Negotiations are also ongoing and deals have been struck with other landowners for parts of the site. Where voluntary deals cannot be secured, CHSPL hopes to use compulsory purchase powers.

Campaigner Tom King shows how high some of the new panels will be (11402545)
Campaigner Tom King shows how high some of the new panels will be (11402545)

Is the land protected?

It is surrounded by habitats designated for their wildlife value at a national and international level ‘The Swale’ has three levels of designation: Site of Special Scientific Interest, a national designation; Special Protection Area, a European designation; and Ramsar, a wetland of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention.

What animals can be found on the site?

Surveys recorded dozens of bird breeding species in and around the development site and surrounding habitats, including marsh harrier, lapwing, bearded tit, skylark, dunnock, house sparrow, barn owl, yellow wagtail, meadow pipit, linnet and reed bunting. A pair of peregrines were also seen frequently.

Other animals identified include great crested newts, bats, water voles and other reptiles.

Who decides if the solar park can be built?

The energy secretary, Greg Clark, will make the final decision based on a recommendation from the Planning Inspectorate, a government body which will carry out an enquiry after examining the application and any evidence presented.

Marsh harriers are spotted at the site (11402701)
Marsh harriers are spotted at the site (11402701)

Why is he deciding this application and not Swale Borough Council?

Because the solar park, given that its capacity exceeds 50MW, constitutes what is called a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP).

CHSPL has made an application for a Development Consent Order, which must be submitted to and accepted by the Planning Inspectorate.

DCO applications cannot be determined by the local authority, although councils such as Swale Borough are involved throughout the planning process.

Has the public been consulted?

Public exhibitions were held in December 2017 and June 2018.

The Planning Inspectorate invited people to make representations before a deadline in January.

In all, 867 were received – just 15 supported the project.

When will construction work start and how long will it take?

Following the enquiry, which has to be completed within six months, the Planning Inspectorate has three months to make its recommendation to the energy secretary, who in turn has three months to make his decision.

CHSPL hopes to start construction in the spring of 2021, with the development taking place over two phases.

The first would take 18 months to complete and includes the solar park and a habitat management area.

Phase two would see the construction of the energy storage facility. It would take six months to build, but work could start before the end of phase one.

A preliminary meeting of the enquiry is being held today at the Alexander Centre, Faversham
A preliminary meeting of the enquiry is being held today at the Alexander Centre, Faversham

When will construction work take place?

Core working hours are proposed to be between 7am and 7pm, Monday to Friday, and 7am to 1pm on a Saturday.

Will there be much activity on site when the park is operational?

It would be restricted to vegetation and livestock management, plus any maintenance work.

Vegetation on the site will be grazed by sheep.

Security will be monitored off-site.

What’s the lifespan of the park?

CHSPL says a minimum of 40 years, while opponents claim this is vastly overstated and fear technology advances will shorten it further.

Decommissioning the park is expected to take between six and 12 months.

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