06:50 Tuesday 17th December 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[P]AUL STAINTON: Peterborough City Council’s Scrutiny Committee has voted to ask the Cabinet in Peterborough to halt plans for the very contentious solar energy park on farmland North of the City. It happened at a meeting last night at the Town Hall, where the Committee discussed a detailed report into the park, which is to be sited on land in the Newborough and Thorney area. It was Cllr Dale McKean who asked the Committee to look again at the issue. Dale’s here this morning. Dale, morning.
DALE MCKEAN: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Now, very contentious. We had the big debate about the whole thing last week, which was very heated, very spiky. Was it spiky last night? Was it heated last night?
DALE MCKEAN: It was very complex, and very detailed, which was a lot better than the September meeting, when we asked the officers to come to us with solar and wind financial models, and rejected that, because they didn’t provide the wind data. So last night there was a very comprehensive report given out a week ago publicly, and we reviewed it. Now this is the third time Scrutiny has reviewed the solar and wind option, and just as a bit of background there are two options; all solar on three sites. That is America Farm which is South of Eye, and Morris Fen, Thorney and Newborough Farms. And the second option is for all solar at America Farm, but introducing wind into Morris Fen at Thorney, wind turbines, and the Newborough. Now the second option is where all of the real big income is coming from. And the second option generates an income of around £166 million last night was presented. That’s up from last year’s figures of about £130 million. Now there’s been some big movement in the data, but what was clear last night is the solar only option really isn’t viable. The America Farm site is actually after spending a significant amount of money only going to bring in at break even or even make a small loss. So that one we clearly recommended taking out of the mix, because it was only ever going to be solar. So we’re saying to Cabinet it’s not going to make any money, take that one out.
PAUL STAINTON: So America Farm in your opinion is a waste of space.
DALE MCKEAN: Yes. Well, that’s one way of putting it. But it doesn’t bring in any revenue. And I’m sure the farmer thinks it’s a very useful piece of space.
PAUL STAINTON: So he did in the debate the other night. very passionate.
DALE MCKEAN: Yes. So let’s give it back to that farmer. There’s no money in it for the Council, and let him carry on with his livelihood. With regard to the other two sites, Morris Fen and the Newborough farms, the overall outlay over the 25 years would have been £296 million. And having spent all of that money out, and all of that risk, over 25 years, the income was going to be round about £20 million. Discounted to today’s value that’s about £420,000 a year that would come in on today’s value over the next 25 years into the Council.
PAUL STAINTON: These figures are very different from what Marco Cereste has talked about in the past, the Leader of Peterborough City Council. They don’t appear to be a viable business model to me. Maybe I’m being a bit thick.
DALE MCKEAN: It isn’t, and this is the whole point of last night’s review. These models are based on the delayed timescales. There is the standard delivery timescales they thought they were going to make, and there is the delayed timescales. So all these models that I’m referring to, the figures I’m referring to, are based on the delayed timescales where the Secretary of State for Communities has already said he’s going to call it in after planning permission, if it is accepted by City Council planners. It’s going to be called in. That’s going to create a year’s delay. And all of these delays create extra costs and lower incomes from the actual farms. And by the time we’ve got the first permission to get started, this Council will have spent £3.9 million. So far it’s spent £2 million, or just over. It was £1.8 in September. And I asked last night what the predicted spend by the time you start getting an income, or would start to do installations, that would be £3.9 million.
PAUL STAINTON: So in total then, with the £296 million, the £3.9 million. That’s over £300 million spend to an income of £20 million.
DALE MCKEAN: Well the £3.9 would be the sunk costs by the time they are able to get ..
PAUL STAINTON: But it’s all got to be spent, hasn’t it? It’s over £300 million spent, to raise £20 million.
DALE MCKEAN: Exactly. So it doesn’t make .. all of that risk in the City Council and the ratepayers and the taxpayers, it does not warrant taking all of that risk just to make £20 million over 25 years. And that’s the recommendation we’ve made to Cabinet. So that just leaves the one model left, which is two sites for a combined solar and wind solution.
PAUL STAINTON: Cabinet likely to take any notice whatsoever of what you’ve had to say?
DALE MCKEAN: Well I hope they take notice of what Scrutiny have said. That’s what Scrutiny is there for. They have gone into a lot of work, and a lot of detail, as the Council officers have, and they scrutinised it in great detail last night financially, looked at the risks, and came up with that conclusion. Now the Cabinet have to make their decision, but it is a very very big risk for a small income.
PAUL STAINTON: And very very briefly, your recommendation was what again, very clearly.
DALE MCKEAN: Well very clearly, stop America Farm. No income from it at all, so either for the first option or the second option. So stop the first option which was an all-solar solution, it just doesn’t bring the income, and move to the follow-on project, which is the combined solar and wind solution.
PAUL STAINTON: Dale McKean who was on the Scrutiny Committee last night at Peterborough City Council, councillors voting to recommend that to the Cabinet. We’ll see what the Cabinet say in January.