An aerial shot of the site of the Cleve Hill Solar Park. Image: Quinbrook.
An aerial shot of the site of the Cleve Hill Solar Park. Image: Quinbrook.

The developer of Cleve Hill Solar Park, a 373MW solar farm, has successfully appealed Swale Council’s decision to refuse consent for the co-located 150MW battery energy storage system (BESS).

Earlier this year, Solar Power Portal, reported that a local planning committee for Swale Borough Council refused an application to install the BESS asset at the project, formally known as Project Fortress.

Residents had feared using lithium ferrophosphate (LFP) batteries to store energy as these are “more subject to explosion risk than other types”, a BBC report read.

One of the primary reasons for the safety management plan’s initial rejection was a “lack of water storage facilities on site, a lack of access to the battery storage area, and the lack of an evacuation plan.”

But in a win for large-scale solar farms, the decision has been successfully appealed, and the council’s conduct has been determined to have been unreasonable. As a result, the council must pay the developer’s appeal costs, and the project can go ahead.

The £450 million solar park was acquired by Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners from Hive Energy and Wirsol in 2021.

Gareth Phillips, partner and head of client relationships, global energy sector, at law firm Pinsent Masons, led the appeal and stated that the outcome is “confirmation that the developer’s battery proposals met the planning and safety requirements, and the local authority’s rejection of the plan was made without justification”.

“The full costs award is reassuring that unreasonable conduct by public decision-makers, which serve to delay clean energy projects, will get called out,” added Phillips.

“The project will be an important step in providing the UK with clean, renewable solar energy and a vital part of the country’s ambitions to meet its net-zero targets.

“This is a case where the developer, the statutory consultees, and the planning officers at the local authority did all that was required of them, with the officers taking the extra step of consulting the local community and appointing an independent expert to achieve greater reassurance. Both were let down by unsubstantiated and politically motivated decision-making.”