The Mounting Cost Of Peterborough’s Stalled Solar Venture

the_gambler17:22 Tuesday 30th July 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: A Freedom of Information request shows that more than £1.5 million has been spent by Peterborough City Council on proposals for a huge solar farm. A decision has not yet been made on the controversial plans for farmland just outside Newborough, but money has already been spent on them, including nearly £800,000 on a feasibility study. Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson is due to attend a meeting from about seven o’clock this evening. I spoke to him a short while ago .. Stewart, you’re going to this meeting tonight. What are you going to say at it?
STEWART JACKSON: Well the community group in Newborough are intending to try and work with the City Council to develop an alternative to the greenfield agricultural renewable energy project that has been put forward by the City Council, and is now with the Secretary of State, so that we can have a project built on brownfield land which is financially viable. So I think that’s what we’re going to be looking to do, ahead of our meeting with the City Council on Friday.
CHRIS MANN: This has already cost a great deal of money. What do you make of that?
STEWART JACKSON: Well I’m very concerned, and I think there are some very serious questions that the City Council have to answer about why this project, which is currently in limbo, is not financially sustainable, is on the desk of the Secretary of State, has cost the taxpayers in Peterborough the best part of £1.5 million. Why they have spent £774,000 on Aecom when we’re nowhere near into the development of this renewable energy project. And it may very well not happen. I think there are some questions that the leadership of the Council and the officers of the Council need to address urgently.
CHRIS MANN: Does it look like mis-management to you?
STEWART JACKSON: What I would say is the Council never seem to have a Plan B. And part of my role as the local MP is to say to them look, we all agree that energy should be in plentiful supply, it should be cheap, it should be energy security. But you can’t do that by building 500,000 solar panels on Grade I and 2 agricultural land. But you should have had a Plan B, which includes building say wind farms and solar panels on already used land. It would have been cheaper. It would have been more financially viable. You didn’t have a Plan B, and now we’ve got to try and assist you in going forward in the public interest, which means cutting your losses and putting this down to experience.
CHRIS MANN: So it was ill-thought out. It doesn’t appear to have been costed. As you say it’s got nowhere. It’s cost a fortune. That’s mis-management, isn’t it?
STEWART JACKSON: Well I think you’ll have to ask the leadership of the City Council that. We did say to them many months if not a year or so ago that they wouldn’t get the support from the people of Newborough and Thorney for this development, that it would fall foul I think of Government planning policy, that it was not financially viable, and that they needed to look again at the project. They didn’t do that. They ignored us. They went right up to the wire at the planning meeting in June, and now they’re in a position where they have to try and retrieve a difficult situation at some cost to the taxpayer. I think that’s an issue that needs to be taken on urgently by the City Council leadership.
CHRIS MANN: Does that mean Marco Cereste, and should he have got a grip of this before now?
STEWART JACKSON: Well he’s quite right in being ambitious for the city in terms of wanting alternative energy supplies. And I completely agree with that. But I think the problem is that there has been insufficient consultation, and the Cabinet haven’t taken the local people with them. And they’ve ridden roughshod in some respects over the views of people in the rural areas. And I think now they need to step back, look at taking advice from people who work in social enterprises, who already work with other local authorities to develop brownfield renewable energy projects, and almost start again. I think if they can do that, accept that they made a mistake, then I think we can all be in a better position.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough. And in a statement, Cllr Marco Cereste, Leader of Peterborough City council said “we’re committed to harnessing the power of renewable energy to generate income that can benefit every resident of our city. We’re investing in the lonag term future of renewable energy as a whole in Peterborough.” He has declined to come on this programme this evening.