John Hayes has opposed the development of three solar parks across 364 hectares of council-owned agricultural land.

The proposed solar developments, of 8MW, 26MW and 49MW respectively, form the basis of the Peterborough Renewable Energy Project (PREP).

Hayes, the Minister of State for Energy and MP for South Holland and The Deepings, expressed concerns over the development of the agricultural land for solar in a letter sent to Peterborough City Council.

In the letter, published by The Sunday Times, Hayes said: “I share the concerns of my constituents who are unclear why the beautiful and flat Fenland countryside has been chosen for the construction of half a million solar panels and nine large wind turbines when there are many suitable brownfield sites nearby.”

The majority of the proposed 364 hectares sits on grade one or two agricultural land. The National Farmers Union (NFU) described the development of the land as “an odd tactic”, questioning the sense of withdrawing prime agricultural land at a time when food prices are rising.

Hayes has courted controversy since his appointment as Energy Minister in the most recent ministerial reshuffle. In a series of newspaper interviews, the minister said that the UK was “peppered with wind farms” and that “enough is enough”, earning himself a public dressing down from Energy Secretary Ed Davey and David Cameron. However, this is the first time that Hayes has commented on a solar development.  

The Council had hoped to have planning permission approved in time to claim the higher 2ROC rate before 1 April, however, progress has been halted whilst an archeological survey is carried out.

Hayes’ intervention calls into question the likelihood of the £331 million solar scheme going ahead. If approved, the developments will potentially form one of Europe’s largest solar parks. According to the council, PREP will generate well over £100 million profit for the authority over the 25-year project lifetime.   

Peterborough Council has already installed solar PV on the roofs of the Town Hall, the Regional Pool buildings, a number of local schools as well as the former Freemans building.