Ambitious plans to build an energy park on farmland near Peterborough have not been blown off course - despite the energy minister’s criticism of wind farms.
The same week that energy minister and Market Deeping MP John Hayes said the UK was “peppered” with wind farms and “enough was enough”, Peterborough City Council’s cabinet voted to press on with its plans to create an energy park of wind turbines and solar panel on sites at America Farm, Morris Fen and Newborough Farm.
Despite the controversy surrounding the plans, councillors on Monday (5 November) agreed that planning applications should be submitted to install ground-mounted solar panels on the farmland and research firm Aecom should continue their studies into the wind farm element of the development.
Mr Hayes was unavailable to comment about the council’s plans but speaking about wind power in general he suggested reviews would be launched into the noise and impact of turbines on the landscape.
Some 4,000 turbines are due to be built across the UK by 2020 and he added that no more would be needed to meet the Government’s green energy targets.
Mr Hayes’ stance was welcomed by Newborough Landscape Protection Group (NLPG) which has been set up to oppose the council’s plans.
Dawn Clipson, chairman of NLPG, said: “We were all delighted by Mr Hayes comments and the fact that a senior politician has made these points is very encouraging.
“There is still a long way to go in this development and we’re going to fight it all the way.
“Morale among some of the farmers isn’t great, but when you’ve got people faced with losing their life-long livlihoods it’s very hard for them.”
However, council leader Marco Cereste has dismissed Mr Hayes’ comments saying that the development would press ahead.
After the proposals were approved by the council’s cabinet on Monday, Councillor Cereste apologised to farmers who claim they had been misled and unnecessarily alarmed about the initial scale of the project publicised by the council in July. The original strategy was looking at an energy park of more than 3,000 acres, which has now gone down to 900 acres.
He added that projects like these are a way for the council to help the city grow in a time of funding cuts.
He said: “I would like to personally apologise to all the people affected by this if we have in anyway misled you. I’m very sorry that’s happened. What I will say is we will learn but that doesn’t help you at the moment.
“We will try try to be as understanding and as sympathetic as possible. We are between a rock and a hard place.
“We will be faced with all sorts of very nasty and difficult decisions if this project doesn’t go ahead.
“This is just the first of many projects. These may be building houses, work places or industrial units, but the only way forward is to take the city and grow so that we can at least mitigate the amount of resources that have been taken away.”
Cllr Nigel North, cabinet advisor, also backed the plans for the energy park saying it could bring £4 million into the city and provide jobs and services.
He said: “This is always going to be a difficult issue. The people who farm the land are very important and the decision must take them into account.
“It is something I have agonised over but on balance I am in favour because I’ve got family in the city and I want them to be able to grow up in the city.”
But Peterborough Independents and Newborough Ward councillor David Harrington, speaking at the cabinet meeting, said: “It is unforgiveable that this council has been the instigator of this abysmal effect on a valued producer of wealth and comodity.
“We are told this scheme will generate money for this city but nowhere in this report as it stands, guarantees it will.
“The land is still of high value in terms of crop yield and capable of sustaining farming for years to come, mostly certainly beyond the 25-year period of this scheme.
“If this goes ahead a very successful local industry will be destroyed, one that has contributed to the local and wider economy both economically and socially over the years.
“They have worked tirelessly in sometimes intolerable conditions to provide much needed food for the city. So leave the farmers alone, let them continue to thrive.”
Timeline: Scheme still be researched
The council is investigating three options of developing the sites before deciding whether to go ahead with any solar farms in February 2013 and wind farms in September 2013.
The renewable sites could result in up to 57,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year being saved.
A council spokeswoman said: “It is anticipated that a planning application for the solar schemes will be submitted in December and that a second application for the wind schemes will be submitted in December 2013.”
It is hoped work on the solar panels would start next September and the construction of the turbines in May 2014.
The council is looking to create a website to keep residents updated about the progress.
If planning approval is granted it will only allow the scheme to run for 25 years after which the developments will be removed.