A proposal by the local authority to skim off a percentage of all future wind farm community benefit funds and put it into a pan-Highland pot has been lambasted as blatant thievery.
Creich community councillor Russell Taylor said the authority was desperate to get its hands on the cash available to communities directly affected by on-shore and off-shore developments.
The move could lead to thousands of pounds being lost to Sutherland – parts of which are a preferred area for wind farm development.
Highland councillors were due yesterday (Thursday) to discuss the controversial proposals put forward by a recently established Community Benefit Working Group (CBWG). The 11-strong, politically representative group was set up in June last year and has met on five occasions since.
Members have come up with a complicated and convoluted “three-tier” system to govern the payment of future on-shore community benefit funds and a “two-tier” system for funds emanating from off-shore developments.
They are suggesting that communities directly affected by on-shore farms should be allowed to keep everything under a £100,000 threshold.
But funding above that threshold should be split, with 55 per cent going to the communities; 30 per cent to the wider locality and 15 per cent to a pan-Highland fund.
The group has also come up with a complex formula to assess which local communities should benefit and by how much. Factors include proximity to the site, visual impact, construction impact and population figures.
Regarding off-shore wind farms, the group wants to see 80 per cent of funds going to the pan-Highland fund with just 20% directed to coastal communities.
Meanwhile members are also keen for Highland Council to have a far greater role in the negotiation and management of future funds.
A paper on the issue, prepared by Bob Cameron, corporate manager for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, was before councillors yesterday.
It stated: “Given the complexity of dealing with three different tiers of funds, it is necessary for the council to consider how to administer these. This could be a new body or, alternatively, it may be appropriate to consider the use of Highland Opportunity Ltd. This latter approach is favoured by the CBWG.”
The report stated elsewhere: “The involvement of the council would offer an opportunity for the whole of Highland to benefit from an industry that might otherwise pay little or no community benefit.
“Whilst communities may be able to negotiate local benefit without seeing some of that go to localities or the pan-Highland fund, the prize from offshore developments would mean that they would have a share of a much larger pot.
“Similarly, if the council can achieve higher rates of benefit from on-shore development, there will be more benefit to go around.”
Substantial streams of cash from wind farms are beginning to seep through to Sutherland communities with parts of the county identified as preferred zones for wind farm developments.
Community councillor Russell Taylor said earlier this week: “I’m in no doubt that the local authority are thieves.
“This is all down to one or two councillors who don’t have community benefit in their area and are jealous of the fact that other people do.
“We get community benefit for the inconvenience and the possible damage to our environment. That’s why it is paid.
“We don’t want the Highland Council to get their hands on the community benefit that we receive. Let’s be honest, if we get all the community benefit that is in the pipeline for us, then it will make a difference to our area – but not if they top slice it.”
The Community Benefit Working Group’s full report is available at www.highland.gov.uk
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding