One of the most senior clerics in the Church of England is facing a row over plans to build wind turbines on historic church land, a decision opponents claim puts profit before parishioners.
The Rt Rev Paul Butler, the next Bishop of Durham, has overseen plans to install the controversial structures on fields held by the church for centuries in his current diocese, of Southwell and Nottingham.
Under Bishop Butler’s leadership, private contractors have surveyed 4,000 acres of “glebe” land – historic tracts of pasture traditionally used to support livings for the clergy – for power generation.
Because of Government subsidies for renewable energy, the diocese has been advised that it could generate around 300 times as much income from a small stretch of land by installing a wind turbine as by using it to graze cattle.
After surveying up to 100 sites they eventually come up with plans to build large turbines on just two sites in the diocese, in the parishes of Elston and Upper Broughton. Other sites were ruled out because they were too near to houses or would have disrupted radar or radio communications.
But the residents of the two sites chosen have voiced alarm at the impact they say the looming structures will have on their homes.
The row could cause embarrassment for the bishop when he takes over his new diocese of Durham, the see left empty by the appointment of the Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Among those who have spoken out recently over the spread of wind farms in the North East of England in recent months is the bishop of the neighbouring diocese of Newcastle, the Rt Rev Martin Wharton.
Bishop Wharton wrote as article in September describing wind farms as a “blot” on “God’s creation”.
Jane Fraser, of the local campaign group Voices Against Turbines in Upper Broughton, said: “The project is purely about maximising profit and has nothing to do with green ambitions or consideration for local congregations.
“Historically glebe land was linked to the parish but we know that now it is under diocesan control.
“There is a feeling that the land should be for the benefit of the community and at the moment it looks as if the community is going to shoulder all the impact but non of the benefits.”
But Nigel Spraggins, chief executive of the diocese, insisted that profit was not the main motivation.
“The current feed-in tariffs are financially good, however, even if they were lower, because of our environmental policy, we would still be exploring this possibility,” he said.
“The diocese does have to manage its assets well as they are there to contribute to the overall income which is required primarily to employ our clergy.
“We are not maximising profits but we are seeking wise financial management.”
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