A wind turbine company has been accused of “bribery” in its fight to build a wind farm near Gargrave.
It is claimed Energie- kontor UK offered the owners of the farm at the centre of the proposed site at Brightenber Hill £275,000 if they wrote a letter of support and the development went ahead.
The offer, made in May last year before the company began its pre-application public consultation for a second scheme, came after an earlier offer of a grass cutting contract worth £5,000 per annum.
Ian and Eileen Coates, owners of Ash Tree Farm, claim there were also frequent unannounced visits and telephone calls, some late at night, which they claimed “bordered on harassment”.
Mr and Mrs Coates were tenants of Ash Tree Farm when original proposals for five turbines were refused three years ago.
The plans were first refused by Craven District Council and then on appeal by a government inspector who ruled the lives of the occupants of the farm would be blighted.
After the scheme was refused by the council, but before the appeal, the Coates’ went ahead and bought the farm, believing they were safe from any future wind farm development.
In their letter to Craven District Council objecting to the new application for three 100m high turbines, they say they relaxed after the inspector’s decision and “for a short time believed that the threat of being condemned to live in a wind farm landscape had gone for good”.
But then the approaches came from the company ending in the £250,000 offer, which they say although tempting, they turned it down. They remain firmly opposed to the scheme.
The couple, who say they sought legal advice and have kept correspondence from the company relating to the offers, add they would have been asked to sign a confidentiality clause had they accepted.
In their letter, Mr and Mrs Coates say: “We have had numerous visits, mostly unannounced, and telephone calls, some late at night from Energiekontor executives who have been attempting to buy our support for their development.
“At times, their attentions have been close to harassment. The bribes that we have been offered over the 12 months or so prior to the submission of their latest application have steadily escalated.
“Their opening bid was an offer to pay us £5,000 per year to mow the grass around the base of the turbines and various other incentives have been offered to us.”
Mr and Mrs Coates say the latest offer came in May last year in the form of a (perfectly legal) pre-contractural agreement where Energiekontor offered £250,000.
The money was dependent on planning consent being given and the Coates writing “a letter to the local planning authority in support of the wind farm”.
The correspondence included a draft letter of support for the Coates to sign and a confidentiality clause.
“Seemingly, Energie- kontor did not want it to be known that they bought off our objections,” said Mr and Mrs Coates.
Mr and Mrs Coates continue in their objection letter to the council that they have reported what they considered the “bullying tactics” of the company to Skipton MP Julian Smith.
“Tempting though it first appeared, we declined to accept their bribe and our opposition to the development remains resolute,” said Mr and Mrs Coates.
Justin Reid, of Energiekontor, said the company believed the removal of the turbine closest to Ash Tree Farm would mean approval of the scheme.
“To further ensure that the Coates family amenities were protected we offered commercial terms which would have allowed mitigation works to be undertaken at this property at no expense to Mr Coates. We sought a standard commercial arrangement which, like all other such agreements, remain confidential.
“Mr Coates was receptive to negotiate and we sought to conclude matters amicably. As a farmer, it has been tremendously difficult to maintain contact with him exemplified by having to resort to text messaging as a means of communication,” said Mr Reid. “Ultimately we were unable to reach agreement, due in part, to restrictive covenants on the land.”
Mr Reid added that the nearest turbine to Ash Tree Farm was now more than half a mile away.
“At this height we are not aware of any commercial scale wind farm project in England, which has been rejected at planning appeal on account of residential amenity at this distance,” he said.
The application is expected to go before Craven District Council’s Planning Committee on Monday, July 30.
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