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The council has had to ditch a plan to force windfarm developers to give money to local communities.
The move comes after officials sought legal advice on their windfarm community benefit policy.
The economy, environment and infrastructure committee was told on Tuesday that around £400,000 a year is currently being paid out in community benefits – a figure that will rise to almost £3million when approved windfarms are up and running.
Originally it had been intended for turbine operators to pay £5,000 a year per megawatt. Half would go to local communities and half would go into a central pot run by the council – a move development contributions officer Laurie McNabb admitted to members had proven “contentious”.
He said: “The regional fund in its current form is still perceived by a significant number of communities and developers to be ‘taken by the council’ for statutory activities, despite assurances to the contrary.”
In his report for members, Mr Laurie said it was senior counsel’s opinion that such community benefit agreements were lawful but only if the developer was in favour. It was deemed “not appropriate” for the council to try to enforce the policy on an unwilling developer.
The report added this matches up in with the latest Scottish Government advice – a change from 2013 when a consultation document suggested using planning conditions to secure benefits.
Councillors agreed to change the policy and the 50/50 split has been removed, although a voluntary region wide fund remains. There will only be discussions with community councils whose area covers or borders the development side. Currently communities within 15km are consulted.
Committee chairman Colin Smyth said: “Councillors unanimously agreed a way forward that makes it clear that any such regional fund would be voluntary. I also want to make it clear that any funding in a central pot would be used for community projects and not council work.
“However, the crucial decision councillors made was to put in place resources to work with communities to support them in getting the best possible deal from any developer.
“The Scottish Government guidance makes clear that a windfarm company doesn’t legally have to pay any community benefit, the level of £5,000 per megawatt is purely a suggestion and windfarm companies can, and have, paid less and at the end of the day the windfarm companies make the final decisions on what any money is spent on.
“That’s why we want to work with communities, if they want us to, and ensure they do not lose out.
He added: “I don’t think people realise the scale of the funding that could land on the laps of communities over the next few years. We are talking about possibly an extra £2.4million a year.
It is vital that how that money is spent is determined by the communities as far as possible and it meets the needs of those communities. Some will have the capacity to deal with any funding, others won’t and the last thing we want is for any local community to get a poor deal or face criticism from local residents that any funding is wasted.”
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