Peterborough Renewables – Leaked Email Points To Planning Panic Over Tariff Deadline

pcc07:07 Wednesday 9th January 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: There’s confusion this morning surrounding the consultation on plans to build solar panels on 900 acres of farmland near Peterborough, with claims that key documents are remaining undisclosed, and consultation dates are being changed. Around a dozen tenant farmers look to be affected, with some fearing they’ll lose their homes, but the City Council say they’re needed to make Peterborough energy self-sufficient. The public consultation into the plans closes on 1st February, but BBC Radio Cambridgeshire has seen a leaked email asking authorities and environmental bodies to give their views ahead of that deadline. It’s led local councillors and campaigners to believe the decision process is being rushed through, and isn’t fair and balanced. David Harrington is an Independent councillor for Newborough, and is working with the Newborough campaign. Morning David.
DAVID HARRINGTON: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Just explain what this leaked email you’ve seen says, and what it means in regards to the whole process, if you can.
DAVID HARRINGTON: Well basically the email was issued on Friday to certain outside bodies and consultees, which did include some of the officers within the PCC, and some PCC members, which basically said that they were changing the consultation period which it was agreed by the Planning Department itself, because of the Christmas and New Year holidays, would be February 1st. They subsequently sent out this email to say it would now be brought forward to 16th January. But because the Planning Department is “under significant pressure”, and these were the words that were used in that email, to process these applications, for them to be considered at the Planning Committee in March, “we urge you to send your representations in by 10th January.” Now subsequently I questioned this of course immediately that why, as one of the ward councillors affected, I wasn’t warned in advance of this email. But all we got back was it was an error, if an error with very large consequences I think, and it shouldn’t have been sent. Well if it’s an error, then there was too much context within that email for that to be the case I think. You don’t make an error with all that context about being under pressure. And it begs the question, an officer of the Planning Department is more or less saying we’re under pressure, so you’ve got to be under pressure as well. Well that’s completely unacceptable. There is no way an officer should urge any outside consultee or objectors to be in a rush to put in their views.
PAUL STAINTON: Is there also a question of impartiality here as well, if they’re all copied in?
DAVID HARRINGTON: Of course. It does bring in the question, where does this pressure come from? I’ve asked where this pressure is emanating from, and I get, well it’s just within the Department. But I haven’t had any proof to say that’s not the case. And it begs the question, if the pressure is coming from outside influence within the PCC to the Planning Department, then it puts the whole question of impartiality of the Planning Department to process these applications. There are grave consequences to these if we don’t get these answers.
PAUL STAINTON: When it comes to the financial sums stacking up though, there is a deadline of the 1st April, isn’t there?
DAVID HARRINGTON: Yes. Exactly.
PAUL STAINTON: Is that the rush here, do you think?
DAVID HARRINGTON: Well you can take it and people can make their own judgment on that. But obviously, from reading from this email, that could reflect why they’re under significant pressure. Yes. There’s no reason to suggest that that’s not the case, because we have to make our own decision to whether that email has that connotation.
PAUL STAINTON: If they don’t get the planning approved by 1st April, they get a lower tariff for their solar panels.
DAVID HARRINGTON: Yes. Which then of course throws the figures that have been projected for this project, it does significantly alter those figures.
PAUL STAINTON: You’re questioning the impartiality here of some people. You’re also saying there’s a lack of transparency. What do you mean?
DAVID HARRINGTON: Well, there is a lot of Freedom of Information requests had to go in from various bodies, to get the information required. I’m still waiting on various information that I’ve requested from officers about the procurement. We’ve still got to go back to the procurement. We haven’t been satisfactorily .. the answers to their questions have not been satisfactorily answered. So there’s lots of information that we’re still requesting which hasn’t come forward, like apparently there were eleven expressions of interest to this contract.
PAUL STAINTON: This is to build the solar panels.
DAVID HARRINGTON: This is to build the solar array. Five were invited to tender for the contract. But only one contractor put in a bid. Now within these very challenging financial times, and if this scheme is such a winner as we’re being led to believe, then why wasn’t any other company interested? If this is going to make lots of money, then I’m sure there’d be other companies very eager to get in on this fact. But it appears as though we only had one contractor awarded on because they were the only one. Now I think they should have re-tendered to that contract, on the basis they only got one interested party, to make sure that they were absolutely getting the best value they could get for the taxpayers of Peterborough. And that is what the Council have to prove they’re doing.
PAUL STAINTON: Your worry here is that this is being railroaded through, rushed through, to get to this 1st April deadline, so that they can make the financials stack up at any cost.
DAVID HARRINGTON: Yes. I think this email has consequences leading to that, because why would an error contain such detailed context of “we’re under significant pressure”? If that was an error, that wouldn’t even need to be put in an email. It would just simply say we are changing the consultation dates from 1st February to 16th January, end of. Why put “under significant pressure”? That to me says it all.
PAUL STAINTON: David thank you very much for coming on his morning.

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08:09

PAUL STAINTON: Joining us now is Peterborough City Council Leader Marco Cereste, one of the men behind this vision of an energy self-sufficient future for Peterborough. Morning.
MARCO CERESTE: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Is there key information not being put out into the public domain here? That seems to be one of the accusations put against Peterborough City Council. Are you holding things back?
MARCO CERESTE: No. That’s rubbish. And it’s complete nonsense. And it’s distortion of the facts. The only information that we are .. we hold .. we’ve provided everything we’ve been asked to provide for, and the only thing we’ve redacted are pieces of information which are in confidence, and are owned b the companies we’re doing business with. It would be no different with the BBC, the BBC or any other public body. You can’t go giving away information which is commercially sensitive to the businesses that you’re dealing with, otherwise no company would ever do business with you again. But everything we’ve been asked for, I repeat, everything we’ve been asked for we have provided.
PAUL STAINTON: The calculations that you’ve made on this plan, some people say they don’t add up, others say they do. You say they’ve been signed off by Deloittes. Has anybody seen the document that signs these calculations off? And if not, why not?
MARCO CERESTE: Well, lots of people have seen those documents. If you’re aksing, have we openly given it to the public to look at, no we haven’t. And there are things in there which are still commercially sensitive. And if you think back to your opening statement, is it is it is it right that the Council wants to do this that and the rest of it, well let’s get this let’s put this into context. What the Council is trying to do is not just be carbon neutral, and it’s not just being a strategy for having renewable energy delivered in the city so that we can protect our citizens’ future from a loss of energy, but it’s also about producing £110 million over the lifetime of the project.
PAUL STAINTON: The worry is though a lot of people are saying the figures don’t stack up, including the MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson, who’s been quite ..
MARCO CERESTE: Well, you know, with all due respect to all the people who are saying the figures don’t stack up, you haven’t got a definitive answer yet, because we haven’t yet .. we haven’t yet got a definitive costing. What we’ve got is a costing that’s based on the market as it is at the moment. But by the time we go to the market those costs may change slightly. So, you know, you could be £5 million here, you could be £5 million there. And we won’t know what that is until, you know, and this is the other point that Cllr Harrington is making, we won’t know that exactly until we’ve got an exact costing on what it’s going to cost to deliver. So we know what the price is today. But we also know that the price will be going down as time goes by over the next few weeks and few months.
PAUL STAINTON: In order though to pooh pooh these accusations that you’re not being very transparent, would it not be better to redact as much as you can of the Deloitte’s signing off document, and put it out in the public domain? Or at least let somebody in the public domain see it. We could see it and not broadcast it.
MARCO CERESTE: We .. abs .. I don’t have any problem with that. Once we’ve got a definitive number and we’ve got absolutely everything in place, I could .. I don’t have any problem with agreeing to any of that. My point, the point I’m trying to make to you, is we don’t have a planning consent yet, and you know we don’t have a planning consent so that is an issue.
PAUL STAINTON: There seems to be a lot of pressure on to get that through though, with this email going out.
MARCO CERESTE: Well, you know, you and I both know that that email was some administrator that’s done what they’ve done, which they probably shouldn’t have done.
PAUL STAINTON: But they copied in a lot of Planning Department people as well, so is it really .. the Planning Department, are they outside of this process, or are you doing ..?
MARCO CERESTE: Well clearly they’re outside of the process, and the Planning Department is put under a lot of pressure to deliver all sorts of things.
PAUL STAINTON: Why were they copied in on this email then?
MARCO CERESTE: Well. you know, I don’t know why they did what they did. That shows to you that we’ve not been interfering in the process. The Planning Department quite clearly has got to meet its statutory obligations, and they’ve got to meet the periods in which they have to do what they need to do.
PAUL STAINTON: The truth is you’ve got to rush this through though, haven’t you, because you’ve got to get planning before April.
MARCO CERESTE: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Let’s .. let’s get away from this you’ve got to rush this though. If we felt that it had to be rushed through, we wouldn’t have extended the consultation period to the 1st February. We would have stuck with the statutory consultation period which would have ended on 10th January.
PAUL STAINTON: But there is a deadline here. If you don’t get it through before April 1st you get a lower tariff, don’t you?
MARCO CERESTE: Yes well that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. You know, you’re all assuming .. you’re all going on about oh, you get a lower tariff, it’s no good. That’s rubbish. Listen to what you’re saying. We are working in the interests of the people of our city., the 170,000 people who live .. 183,000 people who live in Peterborough. And what are you accusing me of? You’re accusing me of taking their best interests to heart. That’s nonsense Paul. I am doing my job as Leader of the Council to try and get the very very very best for our city.
PAUL STAINTON: I’m asking you Marco is if the figures still stack up if you get the lower tariff.
MARCO CERESTE: You’ve invited me on to this show to give my point, as you’ve listened to all the other people.
PAUL STAINTON: Go ahead.
MARCO CERESTE: Let me finish what I’ve got to say.
PAUL STAINTON: Go ahead.
MARCO CERESTE: Right. I am doing my best for the people of this city. And what you’re saying is I’m making a mistake because I want to get a better price and a better deal for the people who live in this city. Paul, that’s nonsense.
PAUL STAINTON: Well you might if you keep rushing things.
MARCO CERESTE: Let’s talk about .. there is no rushing anywhere. No-one is rushing anything.
PAUL STAINTON: Do the figures still stack up then, if you get the lower tariff after April 1st?
MARCO CERESTE: If you’re going to say .. if you’re going to say to me that this has been rushed, don’t say it with words, give me the evidence. That’s complete nonsense.
PAUL STAINTON: Well I’m saying that’s the perception. That’s what people are saying. Do the figures still stack up?
MARCO CERESTE: Awww. If you’re saying that’s the perception, then people are entitled to perceive what they perceive.
PAUL STAINTON: Do the figures still stack up?
MARCO CERESTE: The reality of it is .. the reality of it is we’re doing our job properly, we’re trying to get the very very best for the people of this city, and to get the best for the people of this city is to get the best deal and the biggest return we can on the investment that the people of this city will make.
PAUL STAINTON: If you get the lower tariff .. I’d like an answer to this .. if you get the lower tariff, after April 1st, say the planning doesn’t go through, say it comes in after April 1st, if you end up with the lower tariff, do the figures still stack up for this development?
MARCO CERESTE: Yes they do.
PAUL STAINTON: Marco Cereste, Leader of Peterborough City Council, on the show this morning.

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