Peterborough Energy Plans – Government Steps In

stewart_jackson_mp07:41 Friday 14th June 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has warned Peterborough City Council that he will call in plans to build an energy park near Newborough, if they give it the go-ahead at a meeting on Monday. The Council is planning to erect solar panels and wind turbines of course on that farmland in the North of the city. Local residents up in arms, campaigning against it. Earlier this week English Heritage sent a letter to the City Council saying more archeological investigation was needed. So planning officers have now recommended that initial approval for the first part of the project be delayed. Well Conservative MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson has publicly condemned the project, and has written a letter to Eric Pickles voicing his concerns. And Stewart I believe you’ve tabled a Question in Parliament as well, haven’t you?
STEWART JACKSON: Yes. The Question I tabled Paul was whether he was going to call in the application, and he’s answered that Question now for me, without writing back to me, which is fine.
PAUL STAINTON: OK. So even if it’s rubber stamped at this meeting on Monday, or at a further date, he will look at it. And what does that mean?
STEWART JACKSON: Well it means his officials will become effectively the planning authority, and look at the merits of the planning applications from a national perspective, to see that they not only comply with local planning policy, but that they comply with national planning policy. And I think that one of the issues that the Council has is that obviously the policy has changed to some extent since the Ministerial Statement on renewable energy projects, and that things like the rights of local people to object on landscape, topography, agricultural land being used, etcetera, now are not trumped by renewable national targets. So that’s something that obviously will weigh heavily on the Secretary of State. But I think also of course he’s pulling it in because there is a conflict of interest, in that Peterborough City Council is both the applicant and the local planning authority. There is an element of predetermination in that some of the councillors on that planning committee also voted for the energy park proposals last December at the Full Council. And there are other big issues like the archeology of the site, and whether it’s viable.
PAUL STAINTON: The problem is here though that the Council say this would make over £100 million. It would fill this black hole that is in their finances. In five years time there’s going to be a £60 million black hole. This will push the timescale back and back and back, and they perhaps won’t get the tariff they want.
STEWART JACKSON: No. But that’s not a planning matter. If planning was only dictated to by financial constraints, on when you built your conservatory to sell your house, or when you put something on the back of your business to sell it on, we wouldn’t have a very fair and equitable planning system. It’s about the planning merits themselves. And my point was always that local people .. and first of all I’m not against renewable energy itself. I just think we need to develop renewable energy in this city on brownfield sites, on already used sites such as factories, warehouses, schools, etcetera.
PAUL STAINTON: Well that hasn’t gone that well so far, has it, that?
STEWART JACKSON: It hasn’t, because there hasn’t been a proper analysis and scrutiny of how it’s going to be effectively done. But there are plenty of people out there who, a: are interested in helping to do that, and b: have already done it across the country.
STEWART JACKSON: Do you feel for the Council’s position slightly though? Because we’ve reported many times in the past that Peterborough doesn’t get enough money to cope with the migrant population. The Tory Government have made huge cuts. They’re just trying to find a way to fill this budget gap, aren’t they?
STEWART JACKSON: Well I’d contest that they’ve made a huge gap. The reduction in local expenditure is reasonably large, but across the whole of Government ..
PAUL STAINTON: Well there’ll be a £60 million funding black hole in five years time. I’ve seen the figures.
STEWART JACKSON: Yes but across all public expenditure it’ll be down 3% by the end of this Parliament. So I don’t think that’s a huge cut, although obviously it’s challenging for some parts of Government. But my point Paul was that the people’s voice, of my constituents in the rural areas, was not being heard. They were saying don’t build on prime agricultural land. We think due process is being compromised. We don’t think there’s fairness and equity. people with big vested interests like the local authority are steamrolling this through. And we need someone to step back who has no axe to grind, like the Secretary of State, to say let’s look at the merits of this scheme. And you make a good point about the finances. But that’s an issue that the Council needs to look at in the round, in the long term.
PAUL STAINTON: They need a Plan B and they haven’t got one.
STEWART JACKSON: They do, and I just think basically swallowing up Newborough village like Pacman with 500,000 solar panels and a large number of windmills, on something that’s probably not financially viable, with a rate of return of less than 1%, and that’s before the policy change, I just think it just doesn’t add up. And it’s important that an independent person, whether it’s an Inspector or Secretary of State, looks at it and gives their verdict, because I think that will restore the faith and the trust people have in the planning system, which is sorely tested in the last few months.
PAUL STAINTON: Stewart, thank you for that. That’s Conservative MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson, who’s tabled that Parliamentary Question. And the response from Eric Pickles is that he will call in that decision if it is given the go-ahead. So it will extend the timescale on it. Well Marco Cereste, Leader of Peterborough City Council has responded to that, saying ” The Council will do things the right way and costs of potential delays have already been factored in to the plans. The scheme has the potential to fund vital front line services in the city over the next 25 years.And if it gets rejected, then fair enough, but we will then have to start finding a Plan B .” A statement from the City Council says, “With major or controversial developments the Secrtary of State can decide to call them in for determination. The Council has been formally notified that should the planning committee resolve to approve the application, the Secretary of State will consider whether it’s necessary for him to determine it by a public inquiry.”