Council upbeat despite colossal deficit and millions written off on failed solar projects

peterborough_town_hall08:19 Monday 16th February 2105
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: So let’s go back to Peterborough and the subject of solar farms, which we haven’t spoken about for a while regarding Peterborough. The City Council has announced it’s going to investigate a potential solar farm project at America Farm. Last October it scrapped plans to build two out of the three parks it had been backing for farmland outside the city, Newborough Farm and Morris Fen in Thorney. Those plans have now been cancelled, but the project for America Farm always remained a possibility. Now back in October we worked out that the total cost invested in the three projects was just short of £3.1 million. Let’s talk again to Gavin Elsey. Why is America Farm different from the other two sites Gavin. Let’s start with that.
GAVIN ELSEY: Firstly there are a number of differences Dotty. Firstly it’s a solar farm, not a wind and solar farm. Secondly the size of the project. And thirdly it’s the quality of the land. It’s not Grade 1 land, it’s Grade 3 land, so it makes it entirely different on those grounds.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And do you have an estimate of how much money a solar farm, just one solar farm at America Farm could bring in without these other two parks?
GAVIN ELSEY: I haven’t got the figures off the top of my head but I know that it would bring in several million pounds a year over the life of the contract.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Because you have already spent, we just mentioned the figure, £3 million on these solar parks. How much more are you going to be spending on this?

GAVIN ELSEY: Well I mean the estimate that I’ve seen is that in order for us to fully appreciate whether or not it’s a viable scheme or not, that there would be an investment of approximately £50,000, which is part of the figure, which as you’ve already alluded to were the associated costs were going to be written off this year anyway. But the reality is that we are where we are in terms of finance. We’ve got £25 million worth of deficit this year. The deficit’s going to continue. All of the parties have said irrespective of whether or not which flavour gets into government in May, they’ve all said that local authorities can expect further cuts, and we have to try and find ways of generating income. Now as I’ve said many time before on your programme and on Paul’s programme we have now got a £5 million a year hole in our revenue as a result of the other two schemes not going ahead because of the changes in legislation and public opinion locally. So we have to explore what opportunities we’ve got of bringing in extra revenue to the Council, because the budget is going to get smaller and smaller and smaller. And people don’t like the idea of having a wind or solar farm near them. We understand that. But they also don’t like us cutting services. And we have a finite amount of money which is reducing on a year on year basis, and we have to make some difficult decisions.
DOTTY MCLEOD: The £3 million, you just said I think that that’s been written off. What do you mean by that? Where does that factor in on the budget sheets?
GAVIN ELSEY: It it it’s it’s it’s been put forward as part of the Budget consultation, that all of the associated cost are written off this year for investment so far.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK so effectively you start next year £3 million down.
GAVIN ELSEY: No it’s part of the programme.
GAVIN ELSEY: So we start with a balanced budget next year.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So you factored it in to what you’re doing.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Gavin thank you very much for coming on this morning. Gavin Elsey there, who is Peterborough City Council’s Cabinet member for Street Scene Waste management and Communications.