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Ministers accused of wind turbine “buy off”

Countryside campaigners in Norfolk have said the government should not try to “buy off” homeowners who do not want wind turbines near their properties.

Their call comes as Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey today suggested communities near to proposed wind turbine sites could be offered cheaper electricity or money for improved infrastructure.

The move is part of a new drive to reconcile the need to produce more renewable energy with people’s dislike of turbines; frequently demonstrated by campaigns in Norfolk and across England against them.

Mr Davey said: “Onshore wind has an important role to play in a diverse energy mix that is secure, low carbon and affordable. We know that two-thirds of people support the growth of onshore wind. But far too often, host communities have seen the wind farms but not the windfall.

“We are sensitive to the controversy around onshore wind and we want to ensure that people benefit from having wind farms sited near to them.”

Mr Davey said the government would carry out a consultation to gather evidence on how communities might best benefit from having turbines nearby.

The Government will also seek the latest information on the cost of onshore wind to confirm whether subsidies for new farms from April 2014 have been set at the correct level.

But those who have fought wind farms in Norfolk appeared suspicious of the move. Lucy Melrose was a part of the 4Villages campaign, which is awaiting a decision on whether three turbines on land between Rushall, Dickleburgh, Pulham Market and Pulham St Mary will be approved.

She said: “I can’t speak for everyone in the community. For the ones that I know, if they were asked whether they could be offered cheaper electricity or infrastructure to accept wind turbines the unequivocal answer would be ‘no’.

“People not close to a site may not care, that is a sad fact of life, but the government will not be able to buy off those who live near to proposed turbines.”

“It is as if they are saying they’re fed up of local communities standing up for themselves, they haven’t been able to beat campaigners off despite having the system stacked against them and so they are going to try another way,” she added.

Meanwhile the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which has a branch in Norfolk, said the move was recognition that the government could not “ride roughshod” over residents’ concerns about turbines.

However Tom Leveridge, CPRE’s senior energy campaigner, went on: “We must make sure that this does not promote simplistic notions of ‘sharing benefits’ that amount to little more then paying off communities to secure planning permission.

“This would fundamentally undermine a core principle of the planning system, that planning permission should not be bought or sold, and put the countryside at greater risk from poorly sited wind developments.”

He added: “A genuine attempt to promote community engagement in the design, location and layout of wind farms should lead to a more sensitive approach to reducing the impact wind turbines can have on our beautiful landscapes.”