Villages could be “bribed” into backing wind farm applications as councillors consider forcing renewable energy groups to set up a community fund in exchange for planning permission.
Alnwick Council is looking into a scheme which could see around £100,000 a year paid to residents’ groups in return for planning permission for even small wind farms.
The money would come from community fund conditions attached to any renewable energy companies given the green light to build turbines in Northumberland.
On January 8, Alnwick councillors will meet to consider changes to planning rules which would make it possible to force contributions to various town projects. Wind farm opposition groups have slammed the possible payments as “Judas money” and questioned the motives behind them.
Dominic Coupe, regional head of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The overwhelming feeling is that this is a 30 pieces of silver offer. It is a pitiful offer made by the developers to bribe parish councils.
“My personal view is that the money they offer, when compared to how much developers will make from these turbines, just sums up how they view us.” Mr Coupe added there was a risk the money would be administered by the county council, making it in effect another source of income for the council.
A report prepared by Paul Gee, director of environment and regeneration, has been sent to councillors advising them that “since the wind is a common good, local communities should share in the reward reaped from exploiting it.”
His department’s report describes the payments as “compensation for impact on the landscape” and suggests that payment could be based on energy produced by each turbine. The suggestions come after the Northumberland renewable Energy Group commissioned research which suggested that where there was opposition to turbines, the payments could be used to ensure there was a “valuable community benefit should the development go ahead”.
Coun Hugh Philipson, who sits on the operations executive committee, said no decision had yet been made.
He said: “It is something of a sore point but obviously I can’t say too much before the meeting.
“Obviously the Government is very much in favour of renewable energy and wind turbines but whether or not it is the right solution is another thing altogether.
“I’ll keep an open mind on this for now.”
If councillors agree to impose the cash conditions, they will have to agree on just how big an area can be considered for payment – and how much should be handed over.
by Adrian Pearson
31 December 2007
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