Legal win for 150 MW UK BESS as safety objections ruled unreasonable 

Local authority ruling quashed as planning inspector orders Swale Borough Council to pay developer’s legal costs, paving the way for one of the largest solar and storage projects in the United Kingdom. 
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A major solar park and battery energy storage system (BESS) project in south-east England has secured a significant legal win, overturning local authority objections on safety grounds. 

Development of the 373 MW Cleve Hill Solar Park and collocated 150 MW BESS was dealt a blow in March 2024 when Swale Borough Council refused to grant planning consent, ruling that the project’s battery safety management plan (BSMP) was insufficient. That decision has been overturned through an appeal to the planning inspector.  

The BSMP requirement was placed on Cleve Hill Solar Park when it was first granted a development consent order (DCO) by the UK government in May 2020. Due to its size, Cleve Hill Solar Park is categorized as a nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) in the United Kingdom, meaning central government weighs in on planning approval.

Under the DCO, the developer was required to prepare a detailed BSMP to “prescribe measures to facilitate safety during the construction, operation and decommissioning” of the BESS, including in relation to “the transportation of new, used and replacement battery cells both to and from the authorized development.”  

Swale Borough Council claimed the project’s battery safety plan fell short of the requirements. The planning inspector disagreed and found the local authority behaved unreasonably in refusing the application. Swale Borough Council was instructed to pay the project developer’s legal costs. 

Gareth Phillips of Pinsent Masons, the legal firm which acted on behalf of project developer Quinbrook, said the appeal result was confirmation the developer’s battery proposals met planning and safety requirements.  

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

Phillips added that the case shows developers should consider carefully the requirements and appeal provisions included in DCOs. Bespoke appeal provisions included in the DCO for Cleve Hill Solar Park meant the appeal could be determined within a couple of months, he said, much faster than would normally be achievable.  

Cleve Hill Solar Park was acquired by renewables focused investment fund Quinbrook in October 2021. In July 2022, Quinbrook announced the successful award of a 15-year Contract for Difference to support financing for the project. Construction at the site commenced in April 2023. The site’s previous owners include Hive Energy and Wirsol Energy.  

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