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Council agrees controversial windfarm benefit policy

Highland Council has agreed a controversial new policy governing community benefit funds from future windfarm developments.

Up until now all community benefit funds have gone to the surrounding area deemed to be affected by the particular development.

But, under the new policy, percentages of the fund will be skimmed off and directed to the benefit of other areas and the Highlands in general.

The suggestion that amounts of community benefit should be hived off and spent possibly hundreds of miles away from the development itself was heavily criticised when it was first mooted in March, 2011.

The move will lead to thousands of pounds being lost to Sutherland, large swathes of which are a preferred area for wind farm development.

Creich Community councillor Russell Taylor previously described it as “blatant thievery.”

He said: “This is all down to one or two councillors who don’t have community benefits 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.”

The new policy was set at a conference held in Inverness on Friday at which Scottish Energy Enterprise and Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing was the keynote speaker.

Councillors agreed that in future a minimum community benefit payment of £5000 per megawatt of installed capacity per year be demanded from developers.

And they want negotiations to take place at Highland Council level rather than at a community level.

A council spokesman said: “The council will seek to negotiate concordats with developers, which will ensure that they operate within the council’s policy.”

The new “three-tier” system will see communities directly affected by on-shore windfarms allowed to keep everything under a £100,000 threshold.

A complex formula will be used to assess which local communities should benefit and by how much.

Factors include proximity to the site, visual impact, construction impact and population figures.

The remaining funding above the £100,000 mark will be split three ways – 55 per cent going to the affected communities; 30 per cent to one of ten new “area funds” and the remaining 15 per cent into a Highland Trust Fund.

A spokesman said: “Communities which do not have access to community benefit funding at the local or area fund level will be able to bit into the Highland Trust Fund, which will be operated at arm’s length from the council.

“These communities do not often host renewable energy developments, but they may provides services for those that do and they may have grid lines carrying renewable electricity through them or they may be subject to transport of renewable energy equipment during construction.”

Regarding off-shore windfarms, the authority wants to see 80 per cent of funds going to the Highland Trust Fund with just 20 per cent directed to coastal communities.

Speaking at the conference, Council Leader Michael Foxley said: “We will spread benefits as widely as we can throughout Highland for the good of all communities. We are driving this policy through entirely so that local communities benefit.”

Keynote speaker, Tourism Minister Mr Ewing said: “I want Highland communities to share in the economic and social benefits of Scotland’s onshore and offshore renewables revolution.”