A windfarm developer has again been accused of handing out “bribes” to hush up potential critics of its plans in Perthshire.
Banks Renewables, the company behind a bid to build the biggest turbines the Big County has ever seen on the Bandirran Estate near Balbeggie, recently gave Burrelton Bowling and Tennis Club £4,500 in cash so it could pay to resurface its outdoor courts.
Development director Colin Anderson said Banks were “proud” to support the club and that many more local organisations could benefit from their “community fund” – should their planning application to construct six 132m high turbines be approved.
But anti-windfarm campaign group Scotland Against Spin panned the developer over the payment, claiming the donation had been made to “buy support or silence objections” to its windfarm proposals.
A community councillor also raised his concerns about Banks promising cash to local groups before their planning application has been considered by Perth and Kinross Council, describing it as a “corruption of the planning process”.
Banks came under fire for a similar reason last year after it emerged they had written to residents offering them up to £90,000 “not to object to nor support any objection to any application for planning permission in respect of the wind farm”.
Scotland Against Spin spokeswoman Linda Holt told the PA the cash donation to Burrelton Bowling and Tennis Club was not “technically illegal”, but described such payments as “unethical” and claimed they had the potential to “split communities”.
“Banks has plenty of form when it comes to giving individuals and groups money,” she said.
“The reason is always the same: to buy support, or silence objections, for a wind farm which for very good reasons local people don’t want.
“Sometimes such deals are secret; sometimes they are public, like this one, because Banks want to exploit them for maximum positive publicity.
“Although technically not illegal, promising people money before a controversial application is decided is unethical. It splits communities.
“Anyone who might want to oppose the wind farm can be made to feel they are depriving some worthy local group of much-needed cash.
“Bribes like this make it much harder for people to decide on an application on purely planning grounds, which is of course what the developer wants, especially if the planning grounds for a wind farm like this one are so weak.
“There is one reason and one reason only why Banks has given Burrelton Tennis Club money: to discourage local people from objecting.”
Burrelton and District community council chairman Martin Payne told the PA he only found out about Banks offering cash to local groups through village rumours.
He raised the issue with Banks representatives at a steering group meeting held before they put in the planning application, where he argued they should not make any donations until the planning process had concluded.
“I felt what they were doing was fundamentally wrong,” he said.
“Here they were, about to put in an application for a highly contentious windfarm, and secretly making money available to people directly affected by it.
“It is wholly unsatisfactory. It is a corruption of the planning process and it should not be allowed.”
But Mark Dowdall, environment and community director of Banks Group, said: “The Banks Community Fund provides support to community groups, voluntary organisations and environmental projects that are charitable, educational, philanthropic or benevolent in purpose and are located close to a current or proposed Banks Group development and deliver a benefit to their local community.
“The fund is completely independent of and separate from the planning process and applications are fully and properly reviewed by an independent grants panel set up by the Community Foundation that administers the Banks Community Fund.
“Our policy is to ensure that we work in partnership with the local communities that host our developments so that they can also share in the benefits that our business creates.
“We are extremely proud that, since it was established in 1997, the Banks Community Fund has granted £2.7 million in grants and benefited more than 80,000 people.
“Irrespective of what decision Perth & Kinross Council makes on that planning application, we are glad to have made a positive and meaningful contribution to community life in this area during the two years we have been working here to develop our plans.
“The Bandirran scheme has won widespread backing for the many benefits it would deliver to the area, should it be given the go-ahead, which further demonstrate our commitment to enhancing and benefiting communities where we operate.
“Local communities would share the revenues generated to invest in local causes and projects important to them. Funding would also be created for workplace training and job creation schemes and apprenticeships.
“Local businesses will have the opportunity to benefit from a significant amount of all construction-related contracts, delivering a real shot in the arm to the local community.
“Meanwhile the owners of Bandirran Estate say their share of revenues would secure the future of the estate, with money reinvested to create jobs and increase sustainability.”
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