Forest Heath District Council abandons £14m solar farm plans

Forest Heath District Council has decided not to invest £14.4 million in a solar farm after due diligence checks highlighted several risks.

Councillors voted in favour of investing the money from its capital programme at a special meeting last month (August), subject to due diligence.

If the funding had been confirmed, the solar farm would have been built at Toggam Farm Lakenheath.

But the council announced last week (17 September) that due diligence has highlighted issues, which have led the council to believe that it would be unable to complete the solar farm in time to qualify for Government funding.

The current owners already have planning permission for the site.

 “In the commercial world a business will look at an investment and weigh up the risks involved before deciding whether to invest its money,” said Cabinet Member for Resources and Performance, Cllr Stephen Edwards.  

“West Suffolk councils are no different. Our major source of funding via Central Government has been almost halved in the last two years and we have to be realistic and expect further reductions in the future.

“With this in mind, we are constantly looking for commercial opportunities to invest - not to make a profit - but in order to raise income to be able to support the future of our services to our residents.

“In this case we have invested £130,000 on due diligence to safeguard our potential £14.4 million outlay,” added Cllr Edwards. 

“The money spent, less than one per cent of the proposed investment, has done its job in terms of flagging up a number of issues, which while not insurmountable, could have jeopardised our overall investment. It is similar to getting surveyors’ reports before deciding whether to buy a house. In this case however that value from the reports is not lost as we are already using much of the legal, financial, technical and commercial intelligence obtained from due diligence to apply to other projects which will support services for the benefit of our residents. The cost of due diligence will not impact on Council Tax or services.”

Jamie Hailstone is a freelance journalist and author, specializing in local government, transport and energy issues