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Huge solar farm at Postling, near Folkestone, rejected by council

A solar farm which could power 5,000 homes has been rejected by a Green-led district council over fears it could visually harm the landscape.

Power firm RNA Energy first put forward the plans for a 55-acre solar array – the size of 30 football pitches – at Pent Farm, Postling, in December 2022.

The site of the now-rejected solar panel farm at Postling, near Folkeston. Picture: Barry GoodwinThe site of the now-rejected solar panel farm at Postling, near Folkeston. Picture: Barry Goodwin
The site of the now-rejected solar panel farm at Postling, near Folkeston. Picture: Barry Goodwin

The site, covering six arable fields between Folkestone and Ashford, would have featured three-metre high panels with sheep grazing beneath them.

However, at a meeting of Folkestone & Hythe District Council’s (FHDC) planning committee on Tuesday (March 19), councillors were left split over the plans.

Sitting entirely within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), planning officers had recommended that members reject the scheme.

Debbie Reynolds, one of the managers of the farm, spoke at the meeting, saying: “From the offset I was clear that I would only support this project if it had substantial and real benefits to biodiversity.”

The project could be “a blueprint to demonstrate that farmland is multifunctional and can deliver biodiversity, renewable energy, energy security and profitable farm business,” she argued.

Cllr Mike Blakemore said the solar farm would have an impact on views over the North Downs WayCllr Mike Blakemore said the solar farm would have an impact on views over the North Downs Way
Cllr Mike Blakemore said the solar farm would have an impact on views over the North Downs Way

Tom Roseblade, acting as an agent for the applicants, also attended to back the plans, telling the committee: “This council has declared a climate emergency and emergency situations require emergency action and difficult decisions.”

In 2019, FHDC and all other Kent councils voted to declare an official “climate emergency” and said they would work to combat it.

Mr Roseblade continued: “A solar farm is not permanent like other forms of development such as housing – it does not bring traffic or put pressure on local services.”

After the 40 year lifespan of the array “the land could then be easily returned to its current use,” he said.

However, Frank Hobbs of Postling Parish Council attended to slate the proposals.

“In case you think we’re being Nimbies I would like to point out that very few of our residents will see the array from their homes but it will stick out like a sore thumb from various vantage points on the north downs around the Postling area,” he said.

Cllr Rebecca Shoob, deputy leader of the Green Party at FHDCCllr Rebecca Shoob, deputy leader of the Green Party at FHDC
Cllr Rebecca Shoob, deputy leader of the Green Party at FHDC

“We agree it is necessary to provide alternative sources of power but they have to be in the right place. This application site is not in the right place.”

Following last year’s election, the Greens are now the biggest party at FHDC, with 11 out of 30 seats.

The planning committee for FHDC is made up of four Greens, four Labour, two Tories and one Lib Dem and one Independent.

Members appeared torn over the decision to approve the solar farm when weighing it against the potential harm to the landscape.

Cllr Anita Jones (Green) described the decision as a “huge dilemma.”

“A solar farm is an amazing idea and we do need more of those, and of course I’m in favour of solar energy but I think it needs to be in the right place – and there are other locations you could have such a site,” she argued.

“I took a walk up there this morning just to get an idea of the scale – it’s beautiful and I think it would be a real shame.”

Cllr Mike Blakemore (Green) said: “There’s no getting away from the fact that a solar farm covering six fields is going to have an impact especially on those views from the North Downs Way.

“But I’m not sure that impact is the same as if we were considering a housing development here or new roads.”

He also praised the fact that the scheme will provide enough energy to power over 5,000 homes – with an 18 megawatt generating capacity.

Cllr Rebecca Shoob (Green) backed the proposals, saying: “The demand for clean energy is huge and we need to provide it rapidly – this is proven technology that can do that.

“So we could wait around for other things to come forward but the climate emergency is getting worse and worse.

“The climate emergency for me overrides the harm [to the landscape]”, she added.

However, the committee voted to refuse the application, with seven votes to four and no abstentions.

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