Newborough Landscape Protection Group

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Look East – Marco Cereste interviewed about “significant pressure”

Available until 10/01/13

At c. 5 mins

Watch Cereste suggest that a letter cutting the consultation period was “an administrative mistake”

When told it is a full paragraph – “I wouldn’t know why he wrote that … that would suggest I was one of the people who did that (put pressure on planning) which I did not”

Watch here on iplayer


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Paul Stainton’s Bigger Breakfast hears from councillors asking for Peterborough City Council to be more transparent over the Solar Farms

Available until 15th January

The main feature starts at 1hr 07 minutes.

2hrs 10 – Cereste suggests that he has got Deloitte signing off on the project.  We have an email from a Freedom of Request Information Officer saying that no Due Diligence or signing off document exists.

If Cereste is positive that this exists then we need to ask why the FOI officer will not release it to us?

Someone must be telling the truth – who is it?

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Why we feel PCC should suspend the current planning applications for Solar Farms in Peterborough.

PCC slash consultation period
It has come to light over the weekend that the planning department at Peterborough City Council wish to cut the length of the consultation to institutions and possibly local residents to the 16th January 2013.  This is despite the council detailing in a letter dated 18th Dec 2012 that the consultation will be open to all until the 1st February 2013.  The main reason for the change in date supplied by the planning department – significant pressure within PCC to rush the consultation process.  We ask – how can the public have any confidence that the planning department can maintain independence if significant pressure can make them change agreed dates so easily.
The PCC have divided the energy farm into 3 sites to make sure they do not have to submit the plans to central national planning.  
In reality the plans are in excess of the energy output limit allowed for local planning submission.  
The council have treated the solar and wind project as one entity throughout council.  All votes and oversight committees treated them as one proposal.  If they were really separate plans they should have been voted upon separately.
It was only when they entered planning that they were divided them into 3 sites.  This is to ensure that the PCC planning department can decide upon the changing of Grade 1 agricultural land to Industrial land.  This is a significant decision which could have serious repercussions for farming in our local area.  It would set a precedent for other Grade 1 agricultural fen land being turned into Industrial sites.
We have also heard, but cannot confirm, that AECOM believe that The Newborough Farm site could eventually be higher than the energy output limit allowed for a single local planning application.  It is suggested that this is only going to happen if the wind application fails – but AECOM refused to rule out that it would not go ahead anyway.
AECOM argued that it was legitimate to wait until 2014 for the additional solar panels by making a new planning application.  It is likely that when the Newborough Solar Farm is completed in 2015 it will be larger than the size which would automatically trigger central government oversight.  This application must be withdrawn and submitted to a central government planning committee.
The PCC cabinet have rushed the plans through council to stop opposition
There was an undeclared Tory whip used to force through these plans in November and December 2012.  In order to appease nervous councillors Marco Cereste told the full council that Deloitte had given the plans their full backing so they could vote confidently.  It transpires that these assurances did not exist when a FOI request was made to see the advice.  This means that the plan has not been financially or legally verified.  This could mean that councillors were misled.  Obviously it may be a genuine mistake as the plans may have been submitted for advice and none was forthcoming.  It is of concern that a new vote has not been organised now this has been uncovered.  The planning application must be withdrawn until this can be rectified.
Local residents do not feel as if they have a voice.
Many individuals have been in contact with the DCLG and the LGO to complain about the lack of help they are receiving from PCC.   The DCLG and LGO say they cannot help local residents because new rules state that they must complain through council.  Our experience to date has been that the PCC either ignores complaints or take a month to reply with evasive answers.  FOI requests are heavily redacted and take weeks to be met.  Then further requests need to be made to ask for redaction to be overturned.  All of this is designed to frustrate local residents when the information should be freely available because the planning application has been made by the council.  The PCC cabinet know that local residents cannot afford the cost of a judicial review which could cost millions for a project of this size and we believe they are rushing it through planning in light of negative press they are receiving.  The planning application must be withdrawn and a proper consultation must begin allowing for full disclosure of information.
The PCC admits that the consultation “is to promote the scheme” 
So far the consultation has been used to promote the solar farms to Peterborough.  One of the PCCs project leaders admitted that this was his remit.
One of the main components in the PCCs consultation has been to suggest that the solar farms will mean local people having lower energy Bills.   Marco Cereste has made this promise on Radio BBC Cambridge, in Newborough Parish Council and the same message can be heard at consultations.  We are confused about how the council leader can confuse these two completely separate initiatives.
Local residents can already get lower bills by signing up to the Peterborough City Council Switching scheme.  This is a scheme which will see the PCC and other councils purchase energy wholesale from the National Grid and sell it to local residents.  This has nothing to do with the proposed Solar farms.  Residents of Peterborough and other councils have been able to sign up to this initiative for many months.
The Solar Farm energy is heavily subsidised by the government, and is fed into the National Grid – rather than Peterborough homes directly. The electricity produced will not directly affect the price offered by the PCCs energy supplier firm.
This is not a fair and proper consultation – especially since residents are not being given an unbiased account.  It is upsetting that we have to issue Freedom of Information (FOIs) to gain much of the vital information we need to understand how these plans will destroy wildlife and possibly bankrupt our council.  Whilst the consultation process talks about an initiative which has nothing to do with the proposed solar farms.  Until the consultation treats local residents properly then this application must be withdrawn.
 The energy farm is to be built by a Property Maintenance Firm – not a specialised construction firm.
Residents fear that the lack of an appropriate tendering process for the project means that the project will cost over £500 million.  It is also feared that the contractor who usually collects waste for the city will not have the experience to make the site safe from curious children who could be electrocuted.  We are also concerned that the area will be a haven for criminals who would steal solar panels and metal fittings.  Until a proper tender is completed no work should be undertaken on any of the sites if planning is achieved.

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Do you need help writing an objection letter

We have included a few hints and tips to help you prepare an objection letter.  Please visit the Templates page.

Many of you have asked for an online petition – unfortunately we cannot provide one as storing information online needs expensive security and licences which we cannot afford or manage effectively.

Likewise some of you may have left comments and wondered why they are not online.  At times some of the comments are understandably emotional. Whilst they are not intended to offend we know Peterborough County Council staff read our blog and we would not want to offend any public servant who is just doing their job.

So please if you want to say something please be careful as we would love a lot more opinions on our page.

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Feasibility Study – Summary. Are we being told the full truth.

Unfortunately the PCC have stated that we cannot publish the feasibility study online unless we get written permission.  We will try to do so as soon as possible

It is worth noting that large sections of the study have been redacted (blackened out) so it is difficult to really understand the real impact of the project upon our local area.

When we talked to the project leader at AECOM he informed us that he believed the only sensitive information in the study were the names of protected birds.  If you want to look at the study we will have some copies to read through at our next meeting and you can see that the PCC have heavily redacted the version they released after a Freedom of Information Request.

What are they trying to hide?

The behaviour of Marco Cereste and the team he has assembled to pursue this project continues to cause concern to members of this group.  If they have nothing to hide then why can’t we put this report online for everyone to read.

The contract for the solar farms does not appear to have fully followed the EU tendering process.  The council asked for roof installers to put together bids for roof mounted solar panels across public buildings.  This project only attracted the attention of small maintenance firms like Mears or rooftop installers that you might use for your home.  No major developer tendered because it was too small a project.  This means that Peterborough City Council could not guarantee that this project offers best value for tax payers.

Despite this small contract being ditched – in order to rush the process to meet the April 2013 deadline for government subsidies they are using a maintenance firm to build the UKs largest Solar Farm.  The lack of a proper contract means that local taxpayers could be liable to pay over a billion pounds for this project.

We have also discovered that Cereste was wrong to reassure full council that they could vote confidently for the Solar Farm in November and December because he had legal and financial authorisation.  No such reassurance was provided by the Council’s accountants or lawyers.  Obviously we are not suggesting that he deliberately misled Conservative and Liberal councillors before they voted, but we are convinced that councillors should be asked to vote again now they know financial and legal assurances have not been achieved.  This must be of concern to any councillor and their parishioners because this plan could bankrupt Peterborough and see more than just Care Homes shut across the city.

The council have still not issued proof that they own the land they intend to build the Energy Parks upon.  Grade 1 and Grade 2 land in this area should only be managed by local councils – not owned.  Peterborough City Council must prove they have the right to destroy Grade 1 and Grade 2 land before building on it.

If this plan is so good for Peterborough we would implore Cereste to be transparent.  Release all the documentation and financials about the plan so we can be reassured.  At the moment there is a lot of spin and inaccuracy surrounding this project.  Moreover the promises offered are not supported by evidence. We cannot see why this contract is being kept secret.  If the council are truly acting as guardians of Peterborough then contracts should become public contracts to ensure accountability.  Without full financial disclosure many members of the public begin to think that the council has something to hide and after the recent expenses scandal in Parliament it is imperative that local governments prove they act in the interests of their citizens – rather than just say it.  Actions always speak louder than words. There is no reason for an honest public servant to keep any financial information secret.  The council needs to withdraw its planning application until it can prove that this will not bankrupt Peterborough.

 Please write a letter of objection to the planning application. It is vital that we make the council understand that this project is too risky.  It can endanger the financial security of our council and the countryside of Peterborough. 

We will publish some advice later this week to help you do so and at our meeting on Tuesday 8th January 2013.