Will plans for new 40 hectare solar farm in Barkham benefit Wokingham residents?


THE BOROUGH council has revealed plans for a new solar farm in Barkham –but a member of Wokingham Liberal Democrats questions the benefits residents will receive from the development.

Within the coming month, the council will submit a planning application to install solar panels on farmland north and south of Barkham Ride.

The proposal includes installing solar panels and equipment stores, as well as additional tree planting, across 40 hectares of council-owned land.

In July last year, the council published its Climate Emergency Action Plan Progress Report, which laid out a number of targets to help reduce carbon emissions.

To meet Target 12 of the Action Plan, it must build four solar farms across the borough.

Cllr Gregor Murray, executive member for resident services, communications and emissions at Wokingham Borough Council, said the proposal could be key to reducing carbon output.

“Tackling climate change is incredibly important for Wokingham borough and its residents,” said Cllr Murray.

“We’re committed to going net carbon zero by 2030 and finding ways to generate renewable energy within the borough forms a massive part of our plans.”

According to Wokingham Borough Council, the Barkham solar farm would generate enough energy to power between 5,000 and 8,000 local homes and businesses for years to come.

It also estimates it would save more than 6,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, compared to traditional fossil fuels.

Cllr John Halsall, leader of the borough council, said the solar farm will also prevent land from being turned into housing.

“The benefit of a solar farm is that you can protect the land and you can protect the landscape,” he said.

“The planning permission will involve huge amounts of landscaping and all the wildlife will still be there.”

He added: “Is there a case for solar farm? Yes. Do you want housing there instead? No.

“The solar farm is green. It doesn’t generate any traffic. And it has a huge amount of benefit in that it creates energy, and the land is still there as land.

“The benefits of a solar farm is that you can you can protect the land, you can protect the landscape. The planning permission will involve huge amounts of landscaping.”

But Cllr Sarah Kerr, Lib Dem councillor for Evendons ward, said Wokingham Borough Council is being “untruthful” about the impact of the development.

According to the councillor, any renewable energy generated from the Barkham solar farm would not be provided to homes in the borough.

“The council would need to set up an energy company to be able to do that, so instead the renewable energy would be sold back into the national grid,” she explained.

“It will support the national target of increasing renewable energy, but the council can’t say that it will have any impact on Wokingham.”

Cllr Kerr is concerned that the borough’s Climate Emergency Action Plan £50 million budget is being used to fund the proposal, which she believes will not directly benefit the borough.

“They are trying to make up like part of the Action Plan is working for Wokingham and reducing our carbon emissions, but it isn’t,” she continued.

“The renewable energy the farm produces should go back into the borough, and energy going into the
grid shouldn’t come out of our local funding.

“They’re not being truthful about this project, and are spending 35% of our budget on something that doesn’t impact the climate emergency we have locally.”

According to the Climate Emergency Action Plan, it will cost approximately £18 million to build all four solar farms.

“The Liberal Democrats, nationally and locally, are very much for moving to renewable energy but it has to be done in the right way,” Cllr Kerr added.

Cllr Andy Croy, Labour group leader at Wokingham Borough Council, also criticised the proposal, saying it lacks the scale and scope required to make the borough carbon neutral.

“The carbon savings on the scheme will account for 1% of current carbon usage,” he said.

“In terms of future usage, about one in four of the new houses we are expected to build will be powered by this scheme.”

Cllr Croy believes the Action Plan as a whole is lacking and will not deliver what the borough needs.

“Plans can be measured and assessed,” he continued. “The Conservative plan has been measured and assessed, and proven to be inadequate.”

Wokingham Borough Council said it understands residents may be concerned about the solar farm, and is now inviting people to give feedback on its proposal.

“We wanted to share our plans with residents before we submit the planning application,” Cllr Murray explained.

“We’re keen to give people the opportunity to discuss their thoughts, especially given the importance of sites like this in addressing climate change.”

If the planning application is approved, the solar farm would be converted back into farmland after 40 years.

Further details can be found on Wokingham Borough Council’s website: www.wokingham.gov.uk

It is accepting comments until Friday, February 26. Feedback can be submitted by emailing: commercialproperty@wokingham.gov.uk.

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