Wokingham Liberal Democrats have joined the Labour Party in criticising the council’s plans for a massive solar farm in BARKHAM.

A plan to convert Barkham Farms into a solar farm with approximately 72,000 panels was submitted by Wokingham Borough Council on its planning portal on Thursday, April 8.

The council has argued the solar farm would provide the borough with much needed green energy.

However, the effectiveness of the proposed solar farm in cutting carbon emissions has been questioned by the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.

READ MORE: Wokingham Labour challenge council over Barkham solar farm

Councillor Sarah Kerr, Wokingham Liberal Democrats lead councillor for climate change, also expressed concern over the loss of agricultural land.

She said: “As Liberal Democrats want to see more renewable energy, but it’s got to be done in the right way. The proposed solar farm is on agricultural land, and for that reason I’m not sure it’s the best proposed use of the land.

“The solar panels might be better placed on supermarket roofs, in council car parks and on new housebuilds.”

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have argued that the solar farm would have a minimal impact in the borough’s quest to tackle the ‘Climate Emergency’, which was declared by the council in July 2019.

A key aspect of the declaration is the council’s plans to move to net zero carbon emissions by 2030. But the Liberal Democrats have expressed scepticism over how serious the council is about achieving this goal.

Cllr Sarah Kerr, said: “If the council aims to go for net zero emissions, it should not be offsetting – it should be seeking to reduce emissions altogether.

“The council views it [the solar farm plan] as a financial investment which is fine, but it needs to be separated from the Climate Emergency Action Plan, because the solar farm’s impact would be so small.”

The West Berkshire Solar Farm in Burghfield Common. Barkham Farms will look much like this if the solar farm plan is given the go ahead. Credit: UGC

The West Berkshire Solar Farm in Burghfield Common. Barkham Farms will look much like this if the solar farm plan is given the go ahead. Credit: UGC

A council spokeswoman admitted that the solar farm would only reduce the borough’s carbon footprint by 1.2 per cent.

Cllr Kerr added:  “In terms of Wokingham Borough Council’s action plan, the solar farm projects must be viewed dispassionately in terms of its impact on CO2 emissions in the borough.

“The power generated would contribute into the national grid, and that will basically improve the national renewable energy production by less than a per cent. It is not actually benefitting Wokingham Borough residents.”

Cllr Kerr’s claim that the solar farm would not directly benefit the borough’s residents has been disputed by Rhian Hayes, interim assistant director for housing and place at Wokingham Borough Council.

Interim assistant director Hayes said that residents would benefit from the energy produced by the solar farm.

Explaining how borough residents would benefit, interim assistant director Hayes said: “It’s great that we can generate energy locally as, because of the way our National Grid works, residents and businesses receive energy from their nearest electricity sub-station which comes from the nearest generation source.

“Because of this, even if they don’t sign up for ‘green energy’ electricity tariffs, residents living close to the solar farm will still benefit from the energy generated here.”

READ MORE: Wokingham's Climate Emergency Action Plan slammed

The Liberal Democrats have accused the Conservatives of failing to act sufficiently, having criticising the Conservative administrations’ Climate Emergency Action Plan which was approved last year.

At the time, Liberal Democrat Cllr Rachelle Shepherd-DuBey said the plan was “hot air” and a list of “empty of promises.”

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to put tackling climate change “at the heart” of all of their policies as part of their 2021 Manifesto.

They have promised to build a network of high-quality walking and safe cycling routes if elected.

The site for the proposed new solar farm is located between Barkham, Arborfield Garrison and Finchampstead.

It is currently being used by a tenant farmer for crops and cattle farming, within land stretching over 52 hectares. According to the council’s plans, the solar farm would only be temporary, with the panels removed and the farm ‘rewilded’ after 25 years.

Residents in the borough have until Friday, May 7, to submit their comments about the plan.

You can do this by going to Wokingham Borough Council’s website www.wokingham.gov.uk and searching for planning application number 211081.

Cllr Sarah Kerr is a Liberal Democrat representative for Evendons ward on Wokingham Borough Council. She is not up for election this year, having gained her seat in a by election in 2019.