Bringing Belford on Board
Accepted rules of community engagement indicate that aspiring incomers:
Learn about the community they wish to gain acceptance with;
Are meticulous about courtesy and politeness;
Endeavour to understand issues from both sides;
Provide accurate information to facilitate the decision;
Respond meaningfully to questions and concerns;
Offer amelioration for potential inconvenience;
Approach the community with openness.
The recent exhibition in Belford by EnergieKontor, a German company, keen to tap into the tariff paid from the surcharge on every energy user’s bill to support windfarms, demonstrated a very different approach.
As Belford residents reeled from a previous, ongoing proposal to place 16, 450-foot wind turbines above St Cuthbert’s Cave, EnergieKontor’s exhibition invitation landed on doormats.
The exhibition was held in Belford First School, so the Middleton Burn Action Group (MBAG), formed to oppose the first proposal, obtained the headteacher’s permission to present the alternative perspective.
Over the course of the two evenings, the EnergieKontor team proved to be ill-informed about the area, ill-informed about details of their project, ill-informed about the nature of the wind-turbine industry.
In addition, they were hostile to the Action Group and the school headteacher for allowing us to be there, denigrating about Northumberland, and personally offensive to me, as a member of MBAG (and a resident) – hardly a recipe for winning friends and influencing people.
They erroneously placed Belford in Berwickshire and methods of linking turbines to the grid were ‘not yet identified’, while statements about payments made from Government in the event of turbines being switched off were, at best, misleading, and at worst, incorrect.
The team were gauche, defensive and inexperienced, rather than veterans of EnergieKontor’s completed windfarm projects.
Their manners were similarly deficient – they made it very obvious that they did not want an alternative view presented, both to the school headetacher and to members of the Action Group.
At the end of the exhibition, MBAG presented the results of its exit poll:
98.24 per cent of those attending voted at the exit poll = very strong local objection;
For EnergieKontor proposal – 0 per cent;
Undecided – 0.59 per cent (one person);
Against their proposal – 99.41 per cent.
Following our announcement, a member of their team asserted, in the hearing of a number of Belford residents that ‘there are many counties more beautiful than Northumberland’, which he felt had little to offer.
He went on to say that I made him ‘sick’, that I was ‘ignorant and deluded’, and that he ‘pitied me’. Happily, his good opinion is of no value to me! His rudeness, however, indicated that his own lack of understanding embraced community engagement rules, as well as geography and the wind-turbine industry.
This is EnergieKontor’s first attempt to convince Belford that it should play host to this company and its megalithic monsters – should we trust an ill-informed and discourteous company with our beautiful countryside?
Clearly, Belford residents endorsed the Action Group’s view that we should protect the land that we love and so many people visit for its unspoilt beauty.
Wlliams Way, Belford