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UK’s largest solar farm to be built in Kent despite countryside concerns

Steve Parsons

By Luke Powell, PA

The UK’s largest solar farm, which will generate enough power for more than 91,000 homes, is to be built in Kent despite concerns about the effect on the countryside.

Developers said the 958-acre site, located in the village of Graveney, between Faversham and Whitstable, will help the UK achieve its climate change targets and provide subsidy-free electricity.

The £450 million project, which will consist of 880,000 solar panels, was approved by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Alok Sharma, on Thursday May 28.

Construction work on Cleve Hill solar farm is due to begin in spring 2021, with the project becoming operational in the following year, a spokeswoman for the scheme said.

Campaigners, along with the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust and the countryside charity CPRE Kent, had opposed the plans, arguing it would adversely impact wildlife in the surrounding area.

The Faversham Society, which aims to protect the town’s heritage and objected to the scheme, said it was “extremely disappointed” by the decision.

In a statement, it said: “This decision will have a major impact on our community as a market town set in a rural coastal environment.

“We are opposed to any development project that will detract from, not enhance, our community.”

The Kent Wildlife Trust had previously argued that Marsh harriers which breed and feed in the area could be “displaced” by the presence of the solar panels.

Meanwhile, CPRE Kent said in its objection: “We absolutely support the provision of renewable energy, but solar panels should be on roofs, not trashing landscapes in an astonishingly beautiful part of the North Kent marshes.”

While the 350-megawatt farm site stretches across an overall area of 958 acres, about 436 acres will be covered with solar panels, which will be able to rise to a height of 3.9 metres.

It will also feature one of the world’s largest storage batteries, the project’s spokeswoman said.

Developers Hive Energy and Wirsol Energy, which announced the plans in 2017, said 138 acres of the site will be set aside for overwintering birds, while “one of the largest” open meadows in south-east England will also be created.

The developers, who said the solar farm will be the UK’s largest, claim it will also provide more than £1 million in revenue to Swale and Kent councils each year for the lifetime of the project.

A BEIS spokesman said in a statement that the decision to grant the project consent was taken after “careful consideration”.

“Solar power has the capacity to play an important role in the UK ending its contribution to climate change by 2050,” the spokesman said.

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