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 This application must be withdrawn and submitted to a central government planning committee.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.