Another Financial Disaster For Peterborough Council

barricades07:20 Wednesday 27th February 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: City Council officials have admitted that the solar panel project on the old Freemans building in Peterborough isn’t working, and the Council still doesn’t know what’s wrong with it. Peterborough City Council borrowed just under a million pounds so they could fit these panels on the former factory in Westwood Peterborough, but the panels have never actually worked, since being installed, and the Council chiefs have been unable to say when it will be fixed. Well Johnny D. is at the site of the building this morning. (OB)
JOHN DEVINE: I’m here outside the site Paul, better known by locals as the Freemans building on Ivatt Way. Now back in the summer of 2011 Peterborough City Council unveiled plans to instal solar panels on a number of buildings across the city. One of those buildings was this former factory. In fact this particular part of the project was billed as one of Europe’s largest solar power generators, and it would make the authority half a million pounds a year. The plan would also help promote the city’s green credentials, and allow the authority to sell energy back to the grid. The only problem Paul, the Council never got the panels working. Peterborough City Council borrowed just under one million pounds for this part of the project Paul, and the repayments and interest will set them back around £62,000 every year for the next twenty five years. Now the way the Council was going to repay that investment was by selling the power gained from the panels back to the grid. But as the panels are not working, it’s not been able to do that. Now it has to be said the Council have also installed panels on the Town Hall, the Regional Swimming Pool, the Key Theatre and a number of schools, and no such problems have been reported with them. But this ambitious plan has not worked, and councillors and residents have been left in the dark about why it’s broken. And the reason why this is so significant is because this was the biggest of the projects. It was billed as one of the biggest power generators in Europe. Second of all, as we heard on yesterday’s show, campaigners are worried similar mistakes could happen again when the Council attempts to instal solar panels on tenant farmland in the Newborough and Thorney area. If that happens, there will be serious repercussions for the City Council’s budget. In fact, one city councillor is saying that the Council’s renewable energy investments could be the biggest financial disaster since the PFI of Peterborough City Hospital. And if you don’t already know Paul, the Trust that runs that hospital has needed bailouts from the Government just to survive. (STUDIO)
PAUL STAINTON: That’s Johhny D. outside the old Freemans building in Westwood for us this morning. We did have a number of questions to put to Peterborough City Council today, because when the project was first proposed we were told it would make half a million pounds a year. But we still don’t know what tariff the panels are on, or when they will be working. I did want to ask Peterborough City Council why they’re not working, who’s fault is it, is it theirs or Enterprise, the company that installed them, and how much is it eventually going to cost the taxpayer. Just simple questions, but yet again, nobody from Peterborough City Council or Enterprise wanted to come on this show this morning and answer those questions about where your money has gone. We can now speak to the man who is predicting that this could be the biggest financial disaster since we built the City Hospital. Mike Fletcher is an Independent councillor in Peterborough. Morning Mike.
MIKE FLETCHER: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: You had fears. This was your Freedom of Information request, where all this information’s come from. It took a bit of getting out, but your fears appear to have been founded.
MIKE FLETCHER: Well, I asked these questions last November. Seven weeks later I couldn’t get an answer. I then complained to Gillian Beasley, who intervened, and after eight weeks I got the answers.
PAUL STAINTON: So it took the Chief Executive of the Council to intervene to get any answers.
MIKE FLETCHER: That’s right. But what they wouldn’t tell me was what the income was from this Freemans project. And I was told that on legal advice it is commercially sensitive.
PAUL STAINTON: Well we know now, don’t we? Zero.
MIKE FLETCHER: Absolutely. But I am an elected member to represent South Bretton. I asked these questions. I have a right to be told without footling and lying or anything else. I should be able to have an honest answer. And this legal advice scenario was repeated by Marco Cereste at the last Council meeting. The Newborough Protection Group submitted a Freedom of Information request and they got the same answers as I did, plus the one that says the Freemans building doesn’t make anything. It’s just a complete disaster. Now if it doesn’t work, why the devil doesn’t it work? And why have they paid a million pounds for it? A contracter shouldn’t be paid at all if it isn’t working.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. And we were told that Mears, I think at the time they were rumoured, they were going to be the ones that put it up, but it was Enterprise that put it up. It’s astounding that it’s been put up and it’s not actually working. This is not just going to cost a million pounds, because there’s interest every year as well.
MIKE FLETCHER: Absolutely. But you see, at the time I believed it was Mears , I was told it was Mears that was going to do it. Then I’m told it never was. It was Enterprise. But now I understand Enterprise was just a main contractor, and they subbed it out to some outfit from Oxford. I’d like to just get to the bottom of who actually did fit these panels on Freemans, and why aren’t they back there now, in force, making them work?
PAUL STAINTON: And why is there not something in the contract that says if they don’t work you don’t get paid.
MIKE FLETCHER: Well surely there should be. Somebody ought to see the P45 over this. It’s an absolute outrage.
PAUL STAINTON: And you’re worries are what?
MIKE FLETCHER: Well my worries are with the Newborouugh project, we’ve seen figures that are indicative only. There’s nothing hard and fast. And the Newborough Protection Group have had talks with experts who say that the income from it is only likely to be, I believe it was 1.8%. And as Greene said yesterday, no sensible investor would even put his money into it.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. And will you be asking further questions here? Because we’ve asked questions and nobody wants to answer them.
MIKE FLETCHER: I’m going to make an official complaint to Gillian Beasley as to why I wasn’t given these answers willingly and openly. And I shall also be wanting to know much much more about the Newborough and Thorney project. We want some proper figures, not just these indicative things. And we also want to know have they done the archeological survey. Because it appears the land is full of bog oak and other ancient artefacts as well.
PAUL STAINTON: Mike, thank you for that this morning. Mike Fletcher, an Independent councillor in Peterborough who revealed those figures, the fact that it cost nearly a million pounds of borrowed money to put those solar panels on the roof at the old Freemans Building in Peterborough. They’re not working. It’s not made a penny. We were told it was going to make half a million pounds a year. And we do have a number of questions we’d like answered from anybody with responsibility for this at Peterborough City Council. We’ve asked Peterborough City Council to come on the show and answer a few simple questions. We’ve asked Enterprise. They don’t want to. I notice that councillor David Seaton, a Cabinet member, he’s all over our Facebook page on various topics this morning. If he’d like to come on and answer some questions, they’re very simple questions. Why isn’t it working? Who’s fault is it? Is it still costing us money, and how much will it eventually cost? Just simple simple questions. .. We do have a few lines on an email from the Council overnight. This just in, it’s believed that the Council has paid around a third of the final amount so far. So they’ve not yet paid out the million, but they will have to eventually. “..and is taking appropriate steps to protect the investment of taxpayers money.” That on an email just sent to us this morning.