Highland Council has bowed to public pressure and invited community councillors to a summit about multimillion-pound sweeteners from windfarm companies.
The event was previously restricted to energy firms, landowners and public agencies.
Angry community leaders had tried for weeks to convince the council that they should be part of the process, having had no input last year when Highland councillors and planners shaped the policy. While north communities stand to make millions more from so-called “community benefit” deals, the local authority will now be taking a sizeable chunk of the developers’ future “goodwill contributions” – compensation for places living in the shadow of giant turbines.
As things stand, there is no legal requirement for developers to make any donation.
Highland Council points out on its website that “Scottish Government planning guidance prevents this type of payment from becoming a condition of planning permission”.
Council corporate manager William Gilfillan had told Strathdearn Community Council that the February 24 conference had been “very difficult to prepare, given the interest amongst community councils”.
Pressed to open up the event, he had stated in an e-mail: “It would not be logistically possible to invite all 153 community councils to attend the conference and unfair to only target a few.”
That did not impress community councillors or Inverness South independent Highland councillor Jim Crawford. He said: “The people should have a voice. The community benefit scheme, as it is now, is an ‘opt-in, opt-out’ option. And if you opt in, Highland Council will then take 45%. People have been living with uncertainty. They’ve had all these windfarms proposed and the decisions are not being made locally, but mostly in Edinburgh. There’s little democracy on this issue.”
Highland Council considers the conference, at the Centre for Health Science in Inverness, a launch-pad for what is effectively only a wish-list. Five, day-long public workshops will follow the conference. All community councils will be invited.
Charles Stephen, manager of the Aird and Loch Ness and Inverness South wards, confirmed in writing to Strathdearn Community Council at the weekend that “due to a slower than expected uptake of places than anticipated, we now have 20 places available for community councils who would like to attend”.
The invitation is limited to one person per community council.