Many of us breathed a sigh of relief this week when some common sense prevailed at Hastings Borough Council. Hastings Country Park will not now have industrial solar panels installed. The plan was clearly flawed from its inception and it will now rightly be filed away along with other failed schemes dreamt up by the Labour administration that have proved too costly or unworkable to be realised.
It remains frustrating though that the plans got as far as they did. Myself and the Deputy Conservative Leader Cllr Andy Patmore quite reasonably laid down the reasons why this scheme was bad for the Country Park and bad for the Council, but these arguments were ignored as were the 1,400 people that signed the petition against the plans. The Friends of Hastings Country Park were not consulted on the plans either. The Council was determined to push on ahead with the damaging plans anyway and no amount of pressure would stop them. They commissioned some consultants to write reports for many thousands of pounds of taxpayer’s money to tell them that they were right. They were not and Natural England has opposed the plans which spelt the end for the proposals. The solar park would have been in breach of many planning regulations which cannot be simply bypassed by the Council at their convenience.
The desire to innovate and be mindful of climate change at the Council is something we share with the Labour administration but not at the cost of our natural environment here in Hastings. The physical damage to the Country Park was not the only concern though. The Council was wanting to generate electricity to sell back to the public and therefore enter into the complex world of energy supply, despite not having the expertise in the field to do so. Other local authorities have tried this with Nottingham City Council’s Robin Hood Energy leading the charge. Energy markets are notoriously volatile though and despite huge investment by Nottingham in their scheme they have just reported a loss £23 million for this last year. I remain sceptical about Hastings chances of being successful as a domestic energy supplier on the open market.
Hastings Country Park is a beautiful asset which, as a town, we are lucky to have. One of the lessons I hope that Hastings Borough Council can take away from this episode is that the Country Park may technically be owned by the council but it is not there to be exploited by its owner but to be cared for, preserved and protected for future generations to enjoy.