07:12 Wednesday 6th August 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL STAINTON: A working group of Peterborough councillors has met once again to discuss the financial risks of a proposed solar farm in the city. The cross-party group had previously pooh poohed the scheme, saying the risks were too high, and too much public money had been invested already. But fellow councillors deemed their report as light on detail, hence why they’ve been asked to meet again. Meanwhile Cambridgeshire County Council has submitted its own plans for a 50,000 solar panel farm near Soham. Well let’s speak to Nick Sandford. He’s the Leader of Peterborough LibDems, and on the working group looking into whether the expense of a huge solar farm at America Farm near Peterborough might be worth it. Nick, good morning.
NICK SANDFORD: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Why are you having to meet again?
NICK SANDFORD: Well I wasn’t actually at the original meeting that took place, but I was actually at the Scrutiny Meeting when they presented their report, and they were recommending that the project be discontinued..
PAUL STAINTON: It wasn’t exactly a detailed report though was it? My understanding is it was one page of A4.
NICK SANDFORD: It was one page of A4, and didn’t really have any sort of actual evidence in it. And if you’re going to propose overturning the recommendation that senior officers and expert consultants are putting forward, you actually do need some information in there I think.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. So it was a shoddy job .
NICK SANDFORD: Well I wouldn’t use that terminology. I would say it was probably of all the Scrutiny meetings I’ve been to it was the report that didn’t really have sufficient amounts of information in it.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. So now you’re looking at it again. Are you likely to come up with the same conclusions though?
NICK SANDFORD: Well at the meeting last night, unfortunately of the three people who’d been at the original meeting only one person, Councillor Ed Murphy, he was the only person who was there. So Councillor Fletcher who’d been the chair of the original group had been one of the most vociferous opponents of the solar farm wasn’t actually there.
PAUL STAINTON: It doesn’t sound like — considering the amount of chatter that this has created, it doesn’t sound like the politicians were that bothered about it. You didn’t turn up for the first meeting. Mick Fletcher’s not turned up for this one.
NICK SANDFORD: Well I gave my apologies for the first meeting. It was held at a time when unfortunately I sort of had other commitments. Councillor Fletcher didn’t come last night and didn’t give any reason why he wasn’t there. We .. basically at the meeting last night we went through the report the working group had previously examined. And certainly I can’t speak for the other members of the group, but I couldn’t see from what was put forward any substantial reason why the finances of the project weren’t as the sort of actual officers were proposing. I think it’s important to say that the remit of the working group was only to look at the finances. And if the Cabinet decides to progress it it will then go to planning application, at which a number of other issues will be considered.
PAUL STAINTON: So the outcome of last night’s meeting is that you don’t think it should go ahead.
NICK SANDFORD: I think it should go ahead, on the basis of the information that was put forward. What we agreed was because there was only three of us there, Councillor Thulbourn is going to attend the meeting of the Cabinet, which is held I think at the end of August, and we’re each going to submit our individual comments, which Councillor Thulbourn will put forward. I could see from my personal ..
PAUL STAINTON: It sounds like a right old fudge.
NICK SANDFORD: Well it’s I think you know it’s a very it’s a very awkward issue. You know, you .. I ..
PAUL STAINTON: Well it is, but surely councillors can communicate, come together? The idea is that you’re supposed to come up with some proposals, aren’t you? You’re supposed to scrutinise, together, and come up with a recommendation, aren’t you? Not individual notes.
NICK SANDFORD: What we felt was given the fact there were two members of the working group weren’t there, it would have been ..we would have got ourselves ..
PAUL STAINTON: That’s what I mean. Sounds like people can’t be bothered.
NICK SANDFORD: Well, I can’t speak for people that weren’t there really. I understand Councillor Hiller gave his apologies. He was actually held up. I think that leaving aside all the planning issues which will be brought in at a future date, I think I cannot see any financial reason why the Cabinet should not proceed with the plan. In fact I think it’s important that the Cabinet does reach a decision, because the way that the Government subsidies are actually dropping, it’s important that if we are going to progress this project, it goes ahead as soon as possible.
PAUL STAINTON: So your recommendation personally is it should go ahead. And do you think that’s going to happen then, and that it will proceed then?
NICK SANDFORD: Well I think we’ve got .. one of the major risk factors in the project is the political uncertainty. Eric Pickles, who’s the Secretary of State who you mentioned earlier, he’s actually at the moment calling them in, virtually all significant solar farms and wind farms. So even if the project gets through the planning application, quite likely it will go to public inquiry. So one of .. I think as far as I’m concerned the major question mark is have the actual officers built that into the timetable. because we could be looking at it being held up for a couple of years.
PAUL STAINTON: yes.
NICK SANDFORD: Or we could even, if Eric Pickles decides at the end of the day to overturn it, we could even be looking to it not proceeding. So I think there is still quite a large element of uncertainty.
PAUL STAINTON: Nick, thank you very much. Nick Sandford, the Leader of the Peterborough LibDems. On the working group looking into whether the expense of a huge solar farm at America Farm in Peterborough would be worth it. He says now he’s backing it. He’s behind it. And he can’t see any reason why it should (not) go ahead. Can you?
PAUL STAINTON: And this from Cllr Mike Fletcher, on Peterborough City Council. He was one of the members of course on that working group, looking at solar panels in Newborough. And as Nick Sandford said earlier, he didn’t turn up for the meeting. He says: “I would like to clarify my position on the solar panel working group Paul if I may. It’s been reported this morning I wasn’t there. I made it quite clear to the Scrutiny Committee I would have no further involvement with the second working group that would obviously change the recommendation, purely because the original recommendation was not what they wanted to hear. That is the reason I did not attend last night. The recommendation of the working group was that the solar farm project should not go ahead, as the financial aspects didn’t add up. And let us be under no illusion” says Councillor Fletcher, ” if the recommendations had gone the other way, there would have been no call for a second report. The figures as produced for the group to scrutinise are nothing more than guess-work, and are out of date in my opinion. Councillor Sandford is one of those who has openly supported this administration.” He says, “I do not support the recommendations, and I’ll have nothing else to do with the Scutiny group. ” says Councillor Fletcher this morning.