August 17, 2013

Taxpayers’ £725k bill as wind farms cash in

By Alan Simpson, Scottish Political Reporter | Scottish Daily Mail | 17 August 2013 |

More than £720,000 of taxpayers’ cash has been handed to Scottish councils in the past year to help them cope with record numbers of wind farm applications.

New figures show that the Scottish Government was forced to bail out local authorities struggling with an average of around eight applications a day.

Some councils had to plead for extra cash to bolster planning departments buckling under the strain of processing proposals from developers keen to cash in on public subsidies worth millions.

Most had to take on temporary staff to cope with the workload – at a time when schools and other vital public services are being hit with massive budget cuts.

As a result, ministers paid out £725,000 last year after ignoring calls from councils for a moratorium on applications.

Critics said the SNP was being driven by his ‘ obsession’ with ‘green’ energy.

Last night, Tory MSP Liz Smith said: ‘This shows explicitly how the Scottish Government’s courting of wind farm companies has resulted in massively increased workloads for councils. But Alex Salmond could have saved this money by listening to local authorities and communities sooner.

‘Instead, he has waved through major energy firms while attempting to bully councils into accepting their advances. It’s no wonder local authorities sought a moratorium.’

Around £400million is paid out annually to green energy schemes in Britain. The SNP government’s drive for all of Scotland’s electricity to come from renewables by 2020 has sparked a flood of applications.

Councils were swamped with 1,520 applications from the start of 2012 until the end of last October – an average of nearly eight every working day.

Orkney Islands Council received 322 planning applications for wind turbines – around one a day – the highest number in Scotland.

This forced council chiefs to apply for £50,000 to help them cope with the demand.

Moray Council received £52,000, Western Isles Council got £75,000, and Aberdeenshire Council was handed £75,000 to help pay for extra staff.

Robert Gray, Aberdeenshire’s head of planning, said that a wind turbine ‘team’ had been set up for an initial period of six months. It consists of four planning officers, forcing the recruitment of temporary replacements.

South Lanarkshire Council had 89 applications and needed an extra £70,000 in funding.

Fife Council, which saw a 33 per cent rise in applications, asked the Scottish Government for permission to impose a moratorium last year but the request was turned down. Instead ministers gave the authority an additional £20,000.

Last night, a Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘Scotland has astounding green energy potential and vast natural resources. There is strong public support for developing cleaner energy which harnesses our abundant natural resources, creates jobs and reduces our domestic energy dependence on imported fossil fuels that have driven up customers utility bills.

‘We continue to listen to authorities and communities and our planning process makes sure the views of communities influence the type of developments which are approved in their local area.

‘The volume of wind turbine applications was placing pressure on some planning authorities, we identified funds for those in greatest need to provide additional scope to handle the applications efficiently. This is not about securing approvals in every case.

‘Where developments are considered by Scottish ministers as the result of an appeal, these are subject to the rigorous scrutiny and since 2007, 61 per cent of those appeals have been refused.’

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