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Energy minister voices concern over solar farm plans

Not on my (constituent's) backyard

John Hayes energy MPEnergy minister John Hayes has voiced his objection to proposals for a controversial new energy park in Peterborough.

He has written to Peterborough City Council to raise concerns about the park at Fenland farms, arguing that its construction is not in the best interests of locals.

The MP for South Holland and The Deepings’ told Gillian Beasley, chief executive of the city council, that he has “sympathy” with the views of his constituents over the 900-acre renewable energy park.

The current proposal is to build solar and wind parks at three sites different council-owned sites outside the city.

Money for nothing?

According to the local authority, it could generate around £100 million over 25 years with a joint wind and solar park; considerably more than a solar-only park, which it says would only generate income of £30 million.

However, many have objected to the move, including city council tenant farmers, local campaign groups and the National Farmers’ Union, leading Mr Hayes to openly voice his concerns.

In a letter published in the Sunday Times, Mr Hayes told Ms Beasley that a delegation of his constituents have asked for his help on the matter.

“They feel this is the wrong thing in the wrong place. The proposed farm is not in my constituency, but it’s my job to listen and respond to the concerns of the people I represent,” he explained.

“They say it will have a profound impact on them, even though it is just across the border.”

Green and pleasant land

According to the minister, he shares residents’ concerns about why the “beautiful and flat Fenland countryside” will make way for the construction of 500,000 solar panels and nine large wind turbines, when many suitable brownfield sites are located nearby.

In response, the council claimed that the proposals had not been rushed through, adding that “extensive landscaping” would be used to offset the impact on the aesthetic of the land.

The local authority argued that  funding from central government has been “significantly” reduced in recent years, which has necessitated the exploration of “innovative” ways of generating revenue which protect frontline services while offsetting declining income.

Currently, the plans are on hold after it was claimed that historical artefacts may be buried on the proposed site. Archaeological studies will now need to be completed before the proposals go before the council’s planning committee, though the energy minister’s objections may present an additional hurdle.

No stranger to controversy

It is not the first time that Mr Hayes has interjected in affairs involving renewable energy; earlier this month, the minister claimed energy campaigners concerned with protecting the environment are “bourgeois”.

His comments came after Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the government, told Radio 4’s Today programme that biofuels are harmful to the environment and have an adverse impact on land that could otherwise be utilised for the production of food.

However, Mr Hayes was dismissive of these views, claiming Sir David’s comments were “detached” and saying the coalition instead needs to focus on ensuring the country has a sufficient power supply.