ONLY eight per cent of money put aside for a solar panel project has so far been spent by the council.

The project would see solar panels on West Berkshire Council buildings and should generate almost half a million kilowatt hours. 

However, only £60,000 of the earmarked £750,000 has so far been spent, since the project was approved in the beginning of March — almost eight months ago. 

Councillor Jeff Cant (Con, Newbury Clay Hill), the lead member for finance, said: “It’s complex. All of these things relating to solar panel installation have issues around planning, and a large number of suppliers and different technologies.”

Although he said the council intends to spend another £540,000 during this financial year, he still received criticism from Cllr Adrian Abbs (Lib Dem, Newbury Wash Common), during a meeting of the executive on October 17.  

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Cllr Abbs said: “You’re saying that solar is complex? This is a very mature technology. I’m struggling, could you explain why you haven’t been able to spend a relatively small amount of money?”

Cllr Cant replied: “We are custodians of £750,000 of taxpayers’ money, frankly. It is complex; the procurement process is complex. 

“Unlike the private sector, where you can pick a single supplier without any particular problem, we have to go through a very complex procurement process in the council.”

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Also, regarding the wider environment strategy, Cllr Abbs said there had been ‘slow progress’. 

Cllr Steve Adargh-Walter (Con, Thatcham Colthrop & Crookham), the lead member for the environment, said: “We have not been slow. This is a complex, big, difficult strategy. It needs to tie together, not just with the direct officers involved in solar, but also all areas of the council.”

He said getting towards carbon neutral needs to tie in with all parts of the council, like adult social care. The strategy should be ready for approval in January. 

He said: “These sorts of things can’t be rushed. A rushed document would be substandard. Many other councils have spent well over six months and are still not at that stage. So we are by no means an outlier. 

Cllr Abbs said: “The problem is that we’re starting from the Conservatives suddenly taking an interest in the environment. Having only just decided you need a strategy, we’re having to create one locally. 

“So do you not agree, given the circumstances, that you are struggling to get something going from scratch? As opposed to having something that was already started.”

Cllr Ardagh-Walter replied: “No, once again you are quite wrong in asserting that we have only just woken up to the environment. This last council for the last four years did many many good things and we are in a good shape, environmentally, because of that. 

“We are not starting from zero. Part of the challenge is not simply cutting and pasting somebody else’s strategy, which might work well in other areas, but looking finely for the very specific things which are right for our residents and our district.”