Two thirds of one of the UK’s biggest wind farms has been built abroad, it has been disclosed.
The opening of SSE’s Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm has been overshadowed after it emerged that just £500million of the £1.6million spent building the 500MW scheme has gone to British companies.
Michael Fallon, the energy minister, has attended the opening of the project 14 miles off the coast of Suffolk.
The Government has a new target of ensuring that 50 per cent of all contracts to supply components, build and install wind farms are awarded to UK firms.
It is hoped that the Greater Gabbard wind farm will generate enough energy to power 500,000 homes.
Roger Salomone, energy adviser to EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, criticised the disclosures about Greater Gabbard in the Times newspaper.
“The Government and industry have woken up to this issue so late,” he said. “The reality is that, if a lot of subsidy is being allocated to these projects, we need to get more value out of them in terms of jobs and investment. Greater Gabbard shows how much ground we have to make up.”
A spokesman for SSE said: “£500 million represents a substantial contribution to the economy but it also highlights the huge potential benefit for the UK. If the industry and Government can co-ordinate their efforts to create a viable home-grown supply chain, particularly a UK-based turbine manufacturer, we could see this percentage rise even higher for future projects.”
It came as the Liberal Democrats indicated that some countryside councils attempting to block wind farms deserve to be sued by developers.
Nick Clegg’s party has said it “supports” developers seeking damages from local authorities that raise objections “in contravention” of Government planning policy.
In a policy paper, the Lib Dems attack Conservative councils that register opposition to wind farms and claim that only 10 per cent of the population are “consistently opposed” to turbines.
Glyn Davies, MP for Montgomeryshire, described the Lib Dem position as “outrageous” and an “insult to local democracy”.
The policy document states: “Liberal Democrats would support developers who seek punitive damages against councils who do not follow National Policy Guidelines in determining consents.”
“For example, many (particularly Conservative) councils have adopted criteria (such as minimum separation distances from dwellings), in contravention of government planning policy.”
At least eight councils are trying to restrict large turbines being built up to 1.2 miles from housing.
Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, has promised to “give local communities a greater say” on where wind farms are built.
The Government issued guidance that officials said would effectively end the spread of turbines, which have been blamed for blighting landscapes.
There were concerns last month that the guidance had been watered down after a separate planning document warned councils not to create “inflexible” turbine-free zones by imposing blanket bans of wind farms being built near houses.
However, sources at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) last night said that ministers remain committed to helping “councils turn down inappropriate wind turbines and resist unwarranted planning appeals”.
Peter Luff, Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, who last year tried to bring in laws stopping wind farms being built less than 2km from housing, said: “It’s an extraordinary position. The Lib Dems aren’t going to win many friends in rural constituencies.
“Of course there must be national policy guidelines on controversial planning questions…but we also believe in localism and local communities are often better-placed to judge what is suitable for their area.”
He added: “What it so special about wind turbines that Liberal Democrats obsess with getting them built in inappropriate locations?”
And Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “I would be surprised if there weren’t some Liberal Democrat councils seeking to block wind farms.
“It certainly is really unhelpful language to be using. If you care about climate change and if you think that renewable energy has an important part to play in stopping climate change then what you don’t want to be doing is affronting decent people who care about their landscapes because you bring the whole argument into disrepute.”
Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen, added: “I am very concerned about these plans for a backdoor stealth tax on councils who stand up for their local residents against big corporate wind farm developers.
“Liberal Democrats’ obsession with big business and towering wind turbines is so blinkered that they want to abandon localism and local decision-making.”
The wind farms policy paper will be debated at the upcoming Lib Dem conference in Glasgow.
If it is approved, it will become party policy and could become part of the manifesto for the 2015 election
It also claims that in public opinion surveys, wind farms “consistently attract support from around two-thirds of the public” but that “the 10 per cent or so who are consistently opposed are usually more vocal”.
A DCLG spokesman said: “Some local communities have genuine concerns that insufficient weight is being given to environmental considerations like landscape, heritage and local amenity when determining wind farm applications.
“The Coalition Government has strengthened planning practice guidance to make clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities.”
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