Published: 16:28, 28 May 2020
| Updated: 07:24, 29 May 2020
The UK's biggest solar park boasting 880,000 panels will be built in the Kent countryside, it has been confirmed today.
Set to power more than 90,000 homes with its 350 megawatts of renewable energy, the huge Cleve Hill solar farm will boast a lithium battery storage plant the size of 20 football pitches.
Panels - erected on current picturesque farmland and marshes - will be up to the height of double-decker buses.
The divisive development, of which plans were hatched back in 2017, has sparked an immense and long-running debate over the pros and cons of such a monumental solar farm.
Campaigners have previously stated it was a David vs Goliath fight in a bid to protect their countryside, citing an array of concerns over the scale and location of the development, the destruction of the landscape, the loss of farmland, and the damaging effect on wildlife.
But despite scores of objections from groups such as the RSPB, Greenpeace and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the government has backed the £450 million proposals.
Campaigner speaks of heartbreak as Graveney solar farm given go-ahead
The Planning Inspectorate’s chief executive Sarah Richards said: “The Planning Inspectorate is committed to giving local communities the opportunity of being involved in the examination of projects that may affect them.
"The Examining Authority listened and gave full consideration to local views before making their recommendation."
It is a joint venture by industry specialists Hive Energy and Wirsol Energy, who claim it will bring £1 million a year in revenue to local authorities and create new jobs and other economic benefits.
Perceived as an important factor in the UK's vision to have net-zero emissions economy by 2050, the site is hoped to become operational in 2023 following the start of construction next year.
The Planning Inspectorate recommend the project for approval earlier this month after plans to preserve native woodland and scrub by creating a habitat management area were added.
Given the unprecedented size of the park, planning powers were taken out of the hands of the local authority, Swale Borough Council, as the scheme is classified as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP).
Sir David Melville is chairman of The Faversham Society and has played a key part in the opposition to the solar farm.
He told KentOnline: "This is extremely disappointing.
"We'll have to look at what they've approved and any detail in that before we consider what the next step may be.
"I don't think those who have opposed this are likely to take it lying down.
"It's a great shame as it will be a blight on the landscape."
The decision has been on a knife-edge for months, with campaigners not knowing which way the project will go.
Objectors fear the repercussions of the massive battery could be huge, suggesting its capacity is a twentieth of the TNT equivalent of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb, and state that flames from a potential explosion could reach 70ft in height.
But bosses at Cleve Hill Solar Park say they are working with an industry leading battery supplier and have been provided reassurances on safety standards.
They say the creation of the solar farm will increase biodiversity in the area by 65% thanks to the installation of open grassland and meadow areas, hedgerows and woodland.