£1.6m windfall over windfarms

WINDFARM developers lining up 18 turbines for a moor in north Northumberland have pledged to create a £1.6million community benefit fund to run over the next 20 years.

RWE npower renewables won permission for the controversial scheme at Middlemoor, north of Alnwick, after a public inquiry held in 2007, but work was halted because of concerns over the potential impact on the RAF radar at nearby Brizlee Wood.

A fortnight ago, the Gazette revealed how technology commissioned by the Ministry of Defence will finally allow the development to go ahead, with the turbines expected to be in place by the end of this year and fully operational in 2013.

And RWE has now come forward with a financial package which it says will benefit local people, worth around £80,000 a year over the next two decades.

It is anticipated that residents and parish councillors will be invited to sit on a panel with the developer, which will allocate funding to worthy causes.

Kathryn Harries, community benefits officer at RWE npower renewables said: “We will be encouraging the local community to get involved in shaping plans on how to spend the £1.6million by taking part in a community consultation exercise.

“This will allow local residents to give their views on how best to structure the fund.”

Bill Purvis, chairman of Ellingham Parish Council, said: “We have been aware from the very beginning that the prospect of having a windfarm in our parish may also bring the offer of community benefits.

“Within Eglingham Parish, which also includes South and North Charlton, we have three churches, two village halls, war memorials, a village garden, a community playing field and various ancillaries. All of these are maintained and operated by volunteers.

“We lack local village schools, youth clubs, sporting activities, a public transport system that serves more than the local school run and ventures that provide part time weekend jobs.

“The availability of a pool of funds for use in the community would help substantially in preserving the community assets and public amenities within the villages.

“Funding to support the operating and running of a youth club would give benefit to youngsters in the community and any backing that would promote the employment prospects and choices of our young in these difficult financial times would be so beneficial to the well-being of our community.”

County councillor for the ward, John Taylor, said it was vital that any money benefited the parishes affected first and foremost.

“The parish and community at Ellingham are looking at these proposals with great interest and there are several projects that are under discussion at the moment involving infrastructure issues,” he said. “It is paramount that local people decide where this money is spent, particular the elected representatives of the parish council.”

But Dominic Coupe, who has family at South Charlton and objected to the Middlemoor scheme, said the sum was ‘derisory’ for the impact it would have on the landscape.

“When you consider that npower has doubled my electricity bill in the last two years, you can do the maths,” said Mr Coupe, 41, who now lives at Roddam, near Wooler. “Based on the surrounding population of Alnwick district, which is around 30,000 people, the £1.6million over 20 years works out at around £2.66 a year per person. That’s what they’re offering in return for raising their bills which, incidentally, pays for windfarms in the first place.

“If they think that this is a fair deal, then they’re going to get fairly short shrift from the people of Northumberland. You could do better in a casino.”