COMMUNITY volunteers have rejected the chance of a £2m cash boost for much-needed village hall repairs because acceptance would have meant publicly approving a controversial wind farm proposal.
Now developer Banks Renewables, from Meadowfield, Durham, has come under fire from campaigners fighting plans for a wind farm consisting of five 115-metre turbines at Windy Bank, near Hamsterley Forest, a popular beauty spot near Bishop Auckland, County Durham.
The board of the Teesdale Village Halls Consortium was asked to get involved in a scheme to set up a joint venture with Banks, the firm behind the £12.5m wind farm plan which is due to be discussed by county council planners in the new year.
But in return for a stake in the wind farm, the consortium and its members would have been required to publicly state their support for the five 115 metre-high turbines.
At a consortium meeting at Mickleton Village Hall, members unanimously voted against involvement with the joint venture scheme.
The meeting considered a report by Ewan Boyd, of Teesdale Environmental Consulting, who had been commissioned by the Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Service to explore options for community-owned renewable energy projects.
“One such proposal was to approach Banks Renewables and request that part of their Windy Bank wind farm proposal be made available to community investors as part of a joint venture,” stated Mr Boyd’s report.
“Banks have expressed a strong interest. In discussions to date, Banks Renewables have provisionally confirmed they would be willing to consider offering the community a £2m stake in the overall development.
“It is currently envisaged this level of investment would be sufficient to generate an annual income of approximately £200,000.”
But the consortium’s decision to turn its back on the scheme delighted members of the Hamsterley and Upper Gaunless Action Group, who are campaigning against the Windy Bank wind farm proposal.
Alistair Rutter, a parish councillor at Woodland, near where the windfarm is proposed, said: “We were concerned that the apparent promise of income for village halls might prove attractive, especially as we are only too well aware there are several village halls in Teesdale that are facing significant financial problems.
“We are delighted that the consortium took the honourable action and refused, but it is concerning that Banks felt the need to dangle this cash carrot. We feel that this response from village halls the length of the dale sends a strong message to Durham County Council and Banks Renewables that this wind farm is not wanted.”
Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at Banks Group, said: “We believe that the Windy Bank site is an excellent location for a small wind farm.
“As well as producing significant amounts of renewable energy, the wind farm would also bring a wide range of other long-term benefits to the area, from new jobs and contracts for local firms, to a community benefits fund worth £25,000 every year.
“Banks Renewables was first approached by representatives from the Renewable North Pennines Project and TVHC seeking an opportunity for their organisations to invest in our proposed Windy Bank wind farm.
“We considered their proposal carefully and agreed to work with them to see if there is an opportunity for them to make an investment in the wind farm which could secure the running costs for a number of local charities for the next 25 years.
“We understand that the wider TVHC membership has not supported this proposal but we are continuing to work with the Renewable North Pennines Project to explore whether other local charities might have an option to invest in the wind farm if it is approved.”