The Wokingham Conservatives have defended their plan to build a massive new solar farm on agricultural land 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 borough’s ruling Conservative Party has argued the solar farm would provide the borough with much needed green energy.

However, 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.

Concerns about the viability of the plan were raised when Labour Councillor Andy Croy visited Barkham Farms, who argued that the solar farm would only reduce the borough's carbon footprint by 1.2 per cent.

READ MORE: Wokingham Labour challenge council over Barkham solar farm

Cllr Gregor Murray, the Borough’s Executive Member for Climate Emergency, has defended the plan, arguing that ‘every little helps’ where it comes to climate change and the proposed solar farm has a part to play in that.

Cllr Murray  said: “The global Carbon Footprint is 51 billion tonnes per year.

“What Cllr Croy is essentially saying is that there is no point in Wokingham doing anything on climate change as we represent 1/1000th of 1 per cent of the global carbon footprint. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet in Climate Change.

“I wish there was something that we could do that would cut our carbon footprint in half, but there isn’t. The simple fact that Wokingham Labour fail to realise is that we have to lots of little things that add up and add up and add up to big reductions overall.

“Climate change is like Tesco – Every little helps.”

Bracknell News:
The West Berkshire Solar Farm. The solar farm at Barkham Farms will look very similar to this if it is given the go ahead. Credit: UGC

In a video filmed on location at Barkham Farms, Labour Councillor Andy Croy argued that, in order to meet its climate change targets, the council must work to take motor vehicles off the borough’s roads.

He said:  “That is something we have to address, and it’s something the current climate plan does not address in a serious manner.”

Addressing Cllr Croy’s argument, Cllr Murray said: “We can’t force residents to change the way they move around.

“All we can do is provide them with alternative modes of transport and offer them ways to change their travelling behaviour.

“We do that through extending the network of cycle paths and green ways, both of which are covered in the action plan. We do that through electric buses and extending park and ride schemes and offering emission free travel alternatives, all of which are covered in the action plan.

“We do that through supporting the roll out of Electric Vehicle charging infrastructure and providing residents with opportunities and facilities to switch from petrol and diesel vehicles to electric ones, which is also included in the action plan.

“We do this by being less reliant on the national grid for electricity to supply to electric vehicles, which we are doing with this, and other solar farms in the future.

“If Councillor Croy has other ideas or suggestions as to how we can take cars off of the roads without forcibly removing them then he can suggest them to me at anytime, but so far he hasn’t.”

Meanwhile, the Wokingham Labour Party has accused the Conservatives of prioritising roads “without consummate investment on Active Travel such as walking and cycling, and public transport.”

READ MORE: Wokingham £50m climate emergency plan approved

In its 2021 Manifesto, the Wokingham Labour Party has pledged to explore all options available to reduce car usage, and support the Labour Party’s national policy of free local bus and train travel for under 25s.

Addressing fears  that local wildlife such as deer would be adversely effected if the solar farm was built, a spokeswoman for Wokingham Borough Council said:  “Secure fencing will be installed around the perimeter of the site for safety and to protect from vandalism and damage.

“Whilst this fencing will prevent deer from coming into direct contact with the panels, the sites layout has been designed to create green corridors around the edges, with fencing set back from the boundary hedging.

“This will allow wildlife to continue to move around the site and connect into wider green areas such as the Longmoor Bog Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI).”

READ MORE: Wokingham Lib Dems weigh in on huge Barkham solar farm plan

Cllr Murray added: “The land at Barkham Farms is currently used for grazing.

“Once the solar farm has been built it will be re-sown with grass seeds and wildflowers and can be used for grazing. This will encourage biodiversity and wildlife to return to the site.

“Wokingham Borough Council will also be planting up to 15,000 trees on the site along with maintaining and replanting hedgerows, both of which will encourage and support wildlife and biodiversity.”

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 and searching for planning application number 211081.

As well as serving as Wokingham Borough as the  Executive Member for Climate Emergency, Cllr Gregor Murray represents the Norreys ward. He is not up for election this year, having won his seat during the Local Elections in 2019

Cllr Croy is a sitting Labour councillor for the Bulmershe &Whitegates ward on the borough council. He is running for re-election against Liberal Democrat candidate Sheila Jordan and Shahid Younis, the candidate for the Conservatives.