18:35 Tuesday 5th November 2013
BBC Look East West
[J]ANINE MACHIN: Good evening. First tonight, “it’s full of flaws, subterfuge and a risk to the taxpayer”. What the Energy Minister has been told today about plans for a giant solar and wind farm near Peterborough. The accusation came from the city’s MP Stewart Jackson, who organised a special debate in Westminster. The Council’s plan is to turn nine hundred acres of farmland into an energy park. Emma Baugh reports.
GREG BARKER: When I hear of monster projects which potentially can turn what is a popular, intuitive and increasingly affordable technology, to turn that into something that is unpopular, that is inappropriate, I become very very worried indeed.
EMMA BAUGH: Energy Minister Gregory Barker in Westminster today. And this is what he’s talking about. Peterborough City Council’s plans to turn this farmland into one of Europe’s largest solar farms. But today the city’s MP claimed this development could jeopardise the city’s finances.
STEWART JACKSON: There is a chance that this project will be a financial disaster and actually make a loss, and even bankrupt the City of Peterborough. But it’s the way they treated local people, frankly with disdain.
EMMA BAUGH: The City Council insists it is listening, and says the plan could mean fewer cuts. So while the energy farm is being planned for fields away from here, it will have a direct impact on services in the city itself. The Council wants to borrow more than £100 million to build it, and they say that will give them more than £30 million profit. And if it doesn’t go ahead, they’ll have to find that money from somewhere else.
EMMA BAUGH: In Peterborough today, the jury is still out.
EMMA BAUGH: Meanwhile, the Government has said it could call in the plans if they’re given the go ahead locally, and may call a public inquiry. Emma Baugh BBC Look East.
JANINE MACHIN: So how does Peterborough City Council feel about the MP’s public criticisms of its energy park plans? I asked the Leader earlier.
MARCO CERESTE: Both Mr Jackson and I received the same report from the company he recommended and suggested. I don’t recognise any of the things that he says from that report. So I really don’t know what he’s talking about.
JANINE MACHIN: There’s been a lot of talk over the past couple of weeks about whether or not green taxes and subsidies for green energy will be cut by the Government. Now if that does change, will this scheme be viable?
MARCO CERESTE: Well I’d love to have a crystal ball, and that’s one of the things that I don’t have, although I try to be a bit of a future-gazer as Leader of the city. But what I can tell you is that if the scheme is successful, what we’re trying to do as a local authority is own our own energy production. If we achieve that, then we can protect our residents from these huge price hikes that we’ve experienced in the last few days.
JANINE MACHIN: With respect though councillor Cereste, there were a lot of ifs in that from you there, and this is exactly what Stewart Jackson is worried about. That if it isn’t a success, which there’s no guarantee it will be, he feels the people of Peterborough might be at risk of bankruptcy
MARCO CERESTE: Well of course .. what is it then that every .. he or anyone else thinks that it works everywhere else in the UK, only it won’t work in Peterbroough. What’s the evidence? I’ve not seen this evidence. I repeat, he and I have shared and seen the same report. The report that he’s seen and read is the report that I’ve seen and read. And actually the report that I’ve seen says that it’s a good scheme. It will return an income. And it will work.
JANINE MACHIN: Councillor Cereste, this issue must be staring to feel like wading through treacle for you, because the size of it is against these new Government guidelines. It’s unpopular with a lot of your constituents, and Roman remains have now been found on the site. Do you not feel it’s time to look somewhere else?
MARCO CERESTE: Well I think it’s time that we should always review everything that we do. But the reality of it is .. let’s just look at this. I’m not sure it is against the Government guidelines, and we will review what those guidelines are. And we’re looking at those at the moment. As far as the site is concerned, it’s the size that makes it profitable, and it’s on land that we as the local authority already own. And clearly, if we found some really fantastic remains on the site, then perhaps we don’t .. we might not do it, or we might not need to do it, because what we find on the site is so great that it’s a new opportunity for the city. And we’ll have to come to Plan B, or C, or whatever the plan is.
JANINE MACHIN: The debate over this energy park between yourself and Stewart Jackson the MP has become very public. You are both Conservatives. He says he’s disappointed to disagree with you over it. Is it embarrassing?
MARCO CERESTE: I really am not embarrassed about it in the slightest. It’s not me standing up in Parliament reading from a report that I’ve also got which I don’t recognise from what he has to say. So you know .. he needs to make .. he needs to make his own mind up about what he wants to do. But I will repeat, if in the future we have to make serious cuts to front line services, because this project doesn’t go forward because it’s been stopped by our MP or some of his friends, then those people need to take the responsibility for making those cuts that we have to make in the future.
JANINE MACHIN: Councillor Marco Cereste.