Parish Council asked to ban community electricty plan discussion

Proposed solar farm location

Debenham Parish Council is et to consider a ban on further work on a community electricity generation scheme which would cut electricity bills for residents. The plan for a solar farm originated from council meetings and public support was demonstrated in a series of meetings.

But on Monday (Jan 15) The council is set to consider a resolution proposed by Councillor John Sweet which says:

a)     That the Parish Council does not consider any application for a solar installation on Council land for the remainder of the duration of the current term (3 years and 3 month)
b)    That the Parish Council agrees not to pursue any applications for a Public Works Loan in relation to any solar installation on its land for the remainder of the duration of the current term
c)     That the Parish Council agrees to retain the current use of the Southern Field (by the allotments) as Agricultural Holding land, with its current lease agreement with a long term tenant
d)    That the North Field be used for the “Call for Nature Recovery Project” managed by a third party 
While the motion is in the name of John Sweet alone it is unlikely such a significant resolution would be put forward without discussion among members who believe they can command a majoritty.

The scheme was developed by the council in a series of meetings, mostly in private, which appear to have started on October 4, 2021.

The minutes of that meeting record the public was excluded to recewive a report from Clllr Richard Blackwell.To receive report from Cllr R Blackwell:Members discussed the report “regarding green and renewable energy. In line with the Government’s Energy White Paper, the Parish Council considered how it could proactively start looking at ways to achieve targets set, in line with current requirements and projected growth.
“It was agreed that before any further action could be taken, assertions would need to be made in respect of options, costs and capital funding, and that a Councillor would make such enquiries.”

Five members of the council were present at that meeting of whom two, Frankie Winrow-Griffin and Atephen Phipps, remain members.

A series of private session meetings followed of which little detail is given in the minues. However it is known that discussions were held with Suffolk County Council, which leases the land to the Parish Council. No problems if the land was used for a community generation scheme were identified. Metteings were also held with Mid Suffolk District Council which was also supportive.

The next significant date is June 20, 2022, when the minutes record an update on green initiatives — “A report was received from Cllr R Blackwell, which detailed the next steps the Parish Council would need to take in order to progress this project. Members agreed with the proposal details, which included an item of expenditure of £2,200.”

In the end the cost of an architect to draw up the plans, ws £2,840. Of the six councillors at this meeeting three remain on the council — Lynne Cockerton, Stephen Phipps, and John Sweet.

At the same meeting A wildlife refuge proposal was considered: “The correspondence received from a parishioner was considered by members. It was decided that the proposal should be reviewed by a (named) third party organisation before a final decision was reached.” This may be related to the final clause of John Sweet’s Current proposal.

Here the timeline becomes a little confused. The Suffolk Preservation Society was commissioned with third party finances, to conduct a visioning project. Three meetings, in September and October 2022, at which people were invited to consider community energy generation. At these meeting no reference was made to the work already undertaken by the Parish Council.

It was only after the SPS (the local branch of the Countryside Charity) had reported support for community energy generation was strong but community benefits in the form of reduced home energy bills were expected, that the report on which trhe council had spent nearly £3,000 emerged.

The community energy project was on the agenda for the March 2923 meeting. But the subject first came up in the public participation section. A member of the public started what can only be described as an assault on the scheme.

The agenda item was aa request by Cllr Richard Blackwell for £1,000 to finance public consultation sessions to guage public reaction to the plan. He was faced with a barrage of questions about details. Cllr Sweet, who had previously approved the plan said he had prepared a list of 28 questions.

Despite the suggestion of the Clerk that the matter be adjourned to allow Cllr Blackwell time to prepare answers to questions, the council refused funting for the consultation.

At the April 17 meeting Cllr Blackwell read out a statement and resigned. He said:

“After the March 2023 parish council meeting, which was carefully co-ordinated and ambushed by a number of councillors, I went home rather bruised and battered. I did not sleep that night as a consequence.

On reflection, I also went home feeling intimidated, humiliated, bullied and harassed, and all in a public meeting. As a result, I have been diagnosed with hypertension, something I have never suffered with in the past.

As my health is now suffering, I have no option but to resign as a councillor with immediate effect.

This decision is not taken lightly as I have always tried to do the right thing as far as the village is concerned. I truly and passionately believe that the green energy solar project is still the right thing for the village and am extremely disappointed to no longer be able to lead on it.

Despite resigning Richard Blackwell had also been nominate for the local government elections and was retturned unopposed. However, for reasons which have bent been made public, he resigned again before the first meeting of the new council.

since the elections a further three councilllors have resigned. One replacement has been returned unopposed and three new members have be been co-opted.

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