A windfarm developer is paying an eco-warrior from Yorkshire to boost support for a 10-turbine scheme in Northumberland.
Seasoned Greenpeace campaigner Richard Claxton last night confirmed he is working as an agent for Your Energy Ltd.
The company wants to create a renewable power site at Moorsyde, near Berwick, but has met with stiff resistance from Moorsyde Action Group.
Just three weeks ago, a new pro-wind group sprang up in the area, with Mr Claxton acting as its campaign consultant. And since then, it has managed to amass more than 500 signatures – many on pre-penned letters of support.
Mr Claxton was also present at a planning committee meeting in Ancroft on Tuesday, where the windfarm was due to be approved. It was deferred on the night because of a legal challenge by MAG against Berwick Borough Council.
But Moorsyde protesters are now accusing Your Energy and Mr Claxton of feigning public support for the scheme, when the reality is “overwhelming opposition”.
And they also claim it is undermining an independent study currently under way into windfarms in the borough.
“It is obviously legal and legitimate, but very disappointing, that these tactics are being used by Your Energy,” said Don Brownlow, a professional photographer and MAG member from Norham.
“These people clearly know absolutely nothing about the issues in this part of Northumberland, yet here they are professionally supporting a windfarm which they won’t have to live with because they’re not even local. They are particularly ignorant to the ongoing Ove Arup survey into wind-farming across North Northumberland, which is due to be completed in February.
“It’s obvious they are trying to steamroller this through the planning process by generating supposed support before that report is released.”
But Mr Claxton says his role with Your Energy Ltd regarding Moorsyde is to give advice to pro-wind lobbyists when asked. “I’m not there to drum up support,” he said. “The support is clearly already there, with a silent majority in favour of this proposal.
“I do work for Your Energy, but only to make it easier for those in favour of wind energy to get their voice heard. I see no reason why we should not make it easier for people to support positive change. Quite a lot of developers are starting to employ campaign advisers.”
Your Energy managing director Richard Mardon added: “We are trying to give people who support our proposals a channel to air their views. Not everybody understands the planning process.”
The Moorsyde application is currently on hold, until Berwick Borough Council takes legal advice on MAG’s challenge.
Last Friday MAG appointed Newcastle solicitors Dickinson Dees to act on its behalf if planners went through with their recommendation to approve the bid.
`We’re a voice for the silent majority’
Supporters of the Moorsyde windfarm yesterday denied their fledgling group was being run by developer Your Energy Ltd.
But WWW@Moorsyde admitted it contacted the company immediately prior to its creation just over three weeks ago. Member Joe Lannon, a professional musician and Baptist minister from Berwick, said they were then put in touch with Greenpeace activist and Your Energy agent Richard Claxton.
He’s now giving the group, which has eight members, advice on how to run their campaign.
Mr Lannon said: “Moorsyde Action Group gets external advice for its campaign, so why shouldn’t we? We needed to know who to contact and how to best represent people’s views, which is what Richard is helping us to do.
“Since November we have shown that there is a silent majority who want a wind-farm at Moorsyde.”
Asked why the group had not been formed when the plans first emerged two years ago, Mr Lannon said: “We’re a just small group of like-minded people who support wind energy.
“When the planning committee set a date we thought it was the right time to represent the views of the silent majority.”
Selby campaign ended in success
Back in 2004, Richard Claxton led a team of Greenpeace volunteers to Selby, North Yorkshire, to lobby for Wind Prospect’s 12-turbine plan at nearby Rusholme.
Within six hours his group of five activists got more than 600 signatures on pre-penned letters, which were then handed over to Selby District Council.
Mr Claxton wrote on the Yes2Wind website: “We have met our first target – letters of support now outweigh the nimby objections.
“Our next step is to demonstrate to councillors and planners alike that there’s a huge, silent majority strongly in favour of wind power in the district.
“We should be aiming for thousands of letters of support before next January’s planning meeting.”
The Rusholme application was passed this October, after garnering 1,200 letters in its favour.
By Robert Brooks, The Journal
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