Protestors living in the shadow of proposed wind farms have condemned a council-backed scheme to train North job-seekers as turbine engineers.
Places are now up for grabs on the Vocationally Related Qualification (VRQ) at Northumberland College, which starts in September and will be the UK’s first nationally accredited, independent vocational course for wind turbine installation, service and maintenance.
Northumberland County Council, which helped develop the course, says it could put the region at the forefront of the industry.
It says that with fewer than 2,000 people currently employed in the field across Europe, the course could also pay dividends for those with the right qualifications, with technicians able to command salaries of up to £35,000 a year around the world.
European turbine manufacturers alone estimate that in five years they will require up to 5,000 engineers to service the turbines on the Continent. But Berwick MP Alan Beith said: “It seems that this is a particularly controversial moment to launch such a scheme, and it would be very bad if the county gave the impression that it was taking sides on current applications, even if their motive is to encourage training and improve people’s employment prospects.”
Newly-elected Alnwick district councillor Robert Thorp, who is fighting plans for 18 turbines at Middlemoor, near his South Charlton farm, does not believe it will mean more jobs for the region.
“We have a swathe of controversial applications currently in the planning process here in Northumberland,” he said. “This is very far from being a done deal.
“I for one wouldn’t like to risk committing myself to training for something which may not even happen.
“The claims about job creation are also deceptive, because by the very nature of the industry, there is very little employment created locally when a wind farm is built. These companies tend to bring in their own engineering teams.” Don Brownlow, who opposes the creation of 10 turbines at Moorsyde, near Berwick, said: “The whole local employment issue is a bit of a joke, because we know of wind farm companies flying in their own engineers from Denmark. I think the council is jumping the gun, and their timing is not the best when we have multiple wind farm applications still in the pipeline.”
But county council head of regeneration Alan Wann said: “The wind farm industry is in its infancy at the moment, but is set to grow significantly over the next five years.
“That means we will need the right people with the right skills who will be able to maintain wind turbines. I’m delighted that we have been able to work with Northumberland College to develop a course.”
Northumberland College construction lecturer Ian Fisher said: “The skills of qualified wind turbine technicians will be in great demand in the 21st Century.”
A two-week taster programme starts on Monday May 21 and a second on June 18. The full course starts in September.
By Robert Brooks
15 May 2007
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