22:33 Monday 22nd September 2014
BBC Look East West
JANINE MACHIN: For two years they’ve been at the centre of a bitter argument in Peterborough, but tonight it seems the plans for a set of solar energy sites around the city are officially on hold. The City Council wanted to build the wind and solar farms on 900 acres of farmland at Newborough and Thorney. It was predicted to cost up to £300 million, but would generate electricity for the city to both use and to sell. Now the proposals were first put forward back in 2012, but they’ve always been controversial, sparking protests last year and a dispute between the City Council’s Leader and its MP, both Conservatives, but with very different opinions on the issue. The plans were last halted by the need for an archeological dig on the site, and then in March this year a team was put together to review the plans. Today came the decision to delay, as Ben Bland reports.
BEN BLAND: Well this field has been used to grow wheat. It’s been harvested. As you can see, all that’s left now is the stubble. If the City Council plans go ahead though, there would be solar panels here, but not just here, but right across this whole field at Morris Fen near Thorney. And not just this field, but on hundreds of acres of farmland around Peterborough. It would be one of the largest solar farms in Europe. Now the man who’s the tenant farmer here has been here for nearly thirty years. He doesn’t want the scheme to go ahead, so I asked him what he makes of this latest delay.
FARMER: It just puts uncertainty into all the tenant farmers. Obviously I’m more involved than some, because it’s going to take my whole farm away. But all the time it’s uncertainty, and with farming you really want certainty.
BEN BLAND: So why have they put off making a decision? Well it’s to consider a number of factors, including
The impact of any delay while the Government looks at the plans in detail – in the meantime the costs could go up, while the profits go down;
the fact that Government says there’ll be a reduction in the subsidy it gives to support large solar schemes like this one;
and the fact that by the time it’s all up and running, they might get a lower price for the electricity they generate and sell.
BEN BLAND: The scheme has been controversial ever since it was put forward some years ago. The city”s Conservative MP wants to see the whole scheme scrapped.
STEWART JACKSON: Most independent people can see that this scheme is not going anywhere fast. It’s not financially viable. It’s hugely unpopular, and I think it’s high time that Peterborough City Council faced up to reality and actually pulled the plug on even more public expenditure.
BEN BLAND: A final decision is unlikely to be made until after the General Election next May. Ben Bland BBC Look East Thorney.
JANINE MACHIN: Well we did of course ask Peterborough City Council for a response from those who’ve backed the energy park scheme, but no-one was available for comment.