Cleve Hill Solar Park

Enquiry received via email

Cleve Hill Solar Park

01 May 2019
Tom King

Enquiry

I am writing to raise my concerns about the number of examiners assigned to the Cleve Hill Solar Park case. I have checked the Manston Airport case and notice that 4 examiners are assigned to that case, yet only 2 have been assigned to the Cleve Hill case. The reason for my concerns are: 1. The application for Manston Airport is, as I understand it, to reopen it as an airport. Manston has for many years been an airport, albeit with periods of time where it was unused. I can't see the comparison to the number of examiners needed for that to the situation at Cleve Hill which: a. is a completely new development on valued landscape, b. adjacent to three important wildlife designated areas, c. adjacent to an important walking path that is shortly going to be designated as a National Path, d. will be the largest solar park in Europe with an east-west orientation which is unprecedented in the UK, e. will have huge battery storage with untested technology on this scale, f. will cause serious disturbance to the wildlife and local areas for two and half years during the construction period and during the life of its operation g. is on land identified by the Environment Agency as being required for managed retreat when they cease maintaining the sea defences along that stretch of coast 2. Having only 2 examiners does not allow for consensus and a majority decision on the recommendation that will be put to the Secretary of State. As you will be aware, most panels in business and law are made up on an uneven number of panelists to allow a majority decision to be made, e.g. magistrates. 3. Having only 2 examiners makes it appear that the decision is an easy one to make with limited investigations and reviews needed. Is this application considered to be a 'done-deal' simply because it is for 'green' energy? I am sure I will not be the only person concerned about this situation so would appreciate your explanation on: 1. how the number of examiners is decided, and 2. how they will come to a majority decision which is the right decision for the local area.

Advice given

Thank you for your email dated 25th April 2019 in relation to the appointment of the Examining Authority for the Cleve Hill Solar Park project. Each Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) submitted to the Planning Inspectorate under the Planning Act 2008 (PA2008) is assessed on its own merits. The Examining Authority (ExA) prepares a Recommendation Report for the relevant Secretary of State who is the decision maker; it is important to note that the ExA is not the decision maker. The appointment of the ExA is based on the assessment of the each project and specific issues relating to it, such as complexity of the case, the level of public interest, analysis of policy and any novel issues. Whilst it is considered that a panel of 2 is an appropriate ExA for this case, section 68 of the PA2008 provides for the additional appointments to the Panel, at any time, should it become necessary. In appointing a Panel of two members for the Cleve Hill Solar Park project the SoS considered the CLG Guidance which identifies criteria relevant to appointing an Examining Authority. Further information on the CLG Guidance for the examination of applications for development consent for nationally significant infrastructure projects March 2015, particularly paragraphs12-14, can be found here: attachment 1 . In regards to the environmental issues that you have listed, please be assured that all matters will be carefully considered, tested and probed during the six-month examination of the application. The Rule 6 letter issued on 18th April 2019 includes the draft timetable for the Examination of the application. The letter also includes the Initial Assessment of Principal Issues (Annex B) which at this stage is not a comprehensive or exclusive list of all relevant matters. However, they relate to the Environmental Statement in general; landscape and visual effects, noise; water, flooding and coastal defences; and socio-economic amongst others. The proposed timetable (Annex C) provides for the Issue Specific Hearings (ISHs) on Biodiversity / Nature Conservation Matters (ISH1 on 17th July) and on Landscape and Visual Amenity Matters (ISH3 on 23rd July). This will allow all parties to fully engage in the process and can make written and oral representations about the application to the Examining Authority on all matters that they are concerned about. Additionally, all documents submitted by the Applicant and Interested Parties will be published on project page. In conclusion, the Planning Inspectorate is satisfied that the appointment of a panel of 2 is appropriate for this case. However, if it transpires at a later date that it is not suitable, additional resources can be allocated.


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