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People who oppose nearby wind farms to receive ‘bribes’ of lower energy bills

Towns and villages that oppose the building of wind-farms will be ‘bribed’ into accepting them with an offer of lower energy bills, the Energy Secretary has said.

Ed Davey is trying to diffuse a groundswell of local opposition to the building of wind farms in the countryside.

He announced yesterday that communities that accept the building of wind-farms nearby will be rewarded with lower energy bills or amenities like children’s playgrounds.

But campaigners accused him of using ‘bribes’ to throw the planning process and split communities.

There are currently 3,350 onshore wind turbines, and his department will have to build around 10,000 more by 2020 to meet green targets.

The move will draw battlelines with the 105 Tory MPs, who wrote to David Cameron earlier this year calling for a halt to the march of unsightly and ‘inefficient’ turbines, and cuts to the subsidies paid to developers.

In a call for evidence, Mr Davey suggests giving communities money off their bills, or grants for local amenities such as playgrounds, environmental projects, sports facilities or tourist attractions.

Some wind farm developers, mainly in Scotland, already contribute to ‘community funds.’

It is now suggested this could become common practice in a bid to tackle angry campaigners.

The idea was proposed earlier this year by Tim Yeo, chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Committee who said: ‘We do have to work harder to find places where wind turbines are acceptable and be more creative about sharing the benefits with locals. Frankly, we need to bribe them.’

Tom Leveridge of the Campaign to Protect Rural England said: ‘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.

‘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.’

There are more than 300 groups actively opposing applications and the government is concerned that less than half of applications are currently being granted by councils.

Steve Hey, chairman of the campaign group No to Wold Wind Farms, which is fighting several turbine applications in East Yorkshire, said: ‘This already happens. Developers bribe people who are not directly affected to back it – pitching neighbour against neighbour and village against village.

‘People who have turbines right next to their house, and have their house price reduced by £20,000 will not benefit any more than the next village where people might not be affected at all.

‘I can’t believe this government is planning to use money to influence the planning process, it should be about the benefits and costs of the development. You cannot buy the English countryside and this will divide communities. I think it’s disgraceful.’

Mr Davey recently won a battle with George Osborne to cut wind subsidies by just 10 per cent, not the 25 per cent the Chancellor was pushing for.

He 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 next to them.’

He cites a scheme near Burnfoot Hill Wind Farm in Devon where a community fund of £2.26million was put into community projects and another near Suide Wind Farm in Argyll, Scotland which raises £28,500 a year.

Maf Smith , Deputy Chief Executive of RenewableUK said the wind industry employs 8.600 people and is worth £500million to the economy and should ‘ensure local people share fully in the economic benefits.’

He said: ‘Thousands of people around the UK are already seeing evidence of this – wind farm owners donate at least £1,000 for every megawatt we install, to be spent on community projects like improving sports facilities, village halls and school libraries.’