Windfarm ‘benefit’ package criticism

windfarm
windfarm

The firm behind plans for a windfarm near Kettle has been accused of ‘exploiting the hopes’ of young people.

West Coast Energy — which hopes to build seven turbines at Devon Wood — is offering up to six scholarships to Carnegie College for students from Kettle, Kennoway and Star.

But the bursaries will only be awarded if the windfarm receives planning permission from Fife Council.

West Coast held a drop-in session in Kettle Church Hall to give young people more information on the proposed scholarships.

Speaking after event, West Coast’s energy planning and development director Steve Salt said: “We are delighted that people from Kingskettle, Kennoway and Star attended our information evenings to find out more about the potential scholarship opportunities.

“We are keen to hear from other interested young people in the area, and intend to work closely with the local schools.”

‘WHEEZE’

But in a letter to the Fife Herald, Pittenweem resident Linda Holt blasted the rules that oblige developers to offer ‘community benefit’ in advance of their applications being determined.

Describing West Coast’s bursaries proposal as ‘a PR wheeze that exploits the hopes of youngsters living near Devon Wood’, she wrote: “Many people have questioned developers’ use of community benefit as a sweetener or bribe.

“Companies dangle the carrot of community benefit long before an application is determined, or there is any revenue to hand over.

“This displaces debate about the pros and cons of the de velopment. In fact, it discourages people from voicing their objections for fear that they will be accused of denying a community the promised goodies.

“What about the politicians who decide on whether a development goes ahead? Can they risk questioning the promise of training and new jobs?”

A spokesperson for West Coast said the company had spoken to Ms Holt personally about her concerns and had resolved the issue.

They added that the Scottish Government is firmly committed to the principle of community benefit, that offering it in advance forms part of Fife Council’s tendering rules, and that it is not taken into account by councillors when applications are determined.

Community benefit is incorporated into planning consent through a legally binding section 75 agreement.

The Carnegie College scholarships — worth up to £10,000 — would provide financial support for students studying engineering and renewables.

Mr Salt added: “This initiative builds on the existing community benefit package we have carefully negotiated with the Devon Wood Community Liaison Forum.

“We have submitted our planning application for Devon Wood windfarm in Fife, and we want people in the surrounding areas to benefit if it is given the go ahead.”

Rev. Richard Baxter of St Kenneth’s Church, Kennoway, is chair of the independent forum tasked with negotiating the community benefit.

He said: “We have negotiated an offer of £3500 per installed megawatt per year for the community with a trust, set up at West Coast’s expense, to handle that.

“The offer of the scholarships was made off West Coast’s own back.

“If a few kids can benefit from that then so much the better, but the community benefit package shouldn’t sway people in terms of the proposal itself.”

The plans for seven 121-metre wind turbines have proved highly controversial, attracting hundreds of objections — as well as a sizeable amount of support.

The fate of the application will be decided by councillors in the next few months.