A petition to stop Barnet Council building solar farms on the borough’s parks has gained more than 1,000 signatures – and sparked a political row.

Drawn up by the Labour group, it urges the council “to scrap plans to restrict access to and reduce space at any Barnet parks by building solar panel farms, expanding substations or building electricity storage units on our green spaces”.

It comes after a council savings proposal revealed “low-value” parks and green spaces could be used as sites for solar farms.

Labour’s environment spokesman Cllr Alan Schneiderman (Woodhouse) said: “The plan by Conservative councillors to build on Barnet’s parks is outrageous. It’s clear that Barnet residents value our parks and open spaces and want to protect them from development.”

But environment committee chairman Cllr Dean Cohen (Conservative, Golders Green) accused the Labour group of lying about the Tories’ plans. He said the council had “absolutely no plans to close any parks or green spaces”, and the Tories say the council has “no intention of restricting access to any parks”.

In response, Cllr Schneiderman said the plans are set out in a council savings report, which states that they “may impact on access to parks and open space sites which are deemed low-quality or low-value”.

The Labour group hopes to gain 2,000 signatures by mid-February, to ensure the issue is discussed at the March environment committee. The petition is available here.

What are the facts?

After the Labour and Conservative groups clashed over the petition, we decided to look at the facts.

In November, the environment committee approved a report containing a range of proposals designed to save £6.6 million on Barnet Council’s environment budget.

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One of these proposals was a “review of low-quality or low-value parks and open spaces to assess the feasibility of installing renewable energy solutions such as batteries at substations and solar farms”. It could save an estimated £75,000 over five years.

The report added that this “may impact on access to parks and open space sites which are deemed low-quality or low-value”.

If the proposals are taken forward, the report noted there would be a consultation as part of feasibility or statutory planning consultation and a full equalities impact assessment.

Labour voted against the report, but it was approved when Conservative committee members voted in favour.

At a full council meeting on January 19, Cllr Schneiderman tabled a motion calling on the local authority to “continue to protect all Barnet’s parks and green spaces”.

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An amendment by Cllr Anne Clarke (Labour, Childs Hill) calling for the environment committee to scrap proposals she claimed would “restrict access to and reduce space in our parks and green spaces” was voted down by members of the Conservative group.

Cllr Schneiderman’s original motion, amended by Cllr Cohen to recognise investment made in the borough’s parks by the council, was then approved by all councillors.

‘No plans to close parks and green spaces’

Geoff Mee, Barnet Council’s environment director, commented: “We are aware of a petition regarding the future use of Barnet’s parks. Vibrant and well-managed parks and green spaces are vital to the health and wellbeing of our residents, and we have no plans to close these valuable community spaces.

“The council’s parks and open spaces strategy sets out our ambitions for development – since 2016 we have invested more than £10 million in new facilities and parks improvements, and we have earmarked tens of millions more investment in the coming years.

“During the Covid-19 lockdowns, many people have depended on their local parks and green spaces for leisure, exercise and solace. We will ensure that these community assets are protected and continue to make Barnet a great place for all to live.”