Critics fear more wind farms could be on the way

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PLANS for more wind farms in south east Northumberland could be almost unstoppable if a proposed new law is passed, fear critics.

Communities Minister Eric Pickles is redistributing business rates among local authorities in a move set to cost Northumberland County Council millions of pounds a year.

However, authorities will be able to claw back some cash by keeping all the rates from green energy projects they approve.

That will make it very hard to resist wind turbines, fears the county council’s Labour group leader, Grant Davey.

The local government finance bill had its second reading in the House of Lords last week and could be in force by April next year.

Coun Davey, of Blyth’s Kitty Brewster ward, said: “The effect of this act on Northumberland would be to burden the population with an additional £35.5m cut as the act changes the way business rates income is distributed nationally.

“With the government starving councils of cash and then releasing a new planning framework where councils have to begin their processes by saying yes, we will have great difficulty in opposing any renewable energy projects.”

Turbine business rate is payable at £2.08 per installed kilowatt, and one large turbine could have capacity for 500kw.

Schemes that will earn councils business rates include wood-burning power stations, hydroelectricity projects and solar panels.

Coun Davey said: “This government has councils in the north over a barrel.

“We are paying the price of de-industrialisation during the Thatcher years, with Northumberland haemorrhaging businesses at an alarming rate.

“Allowing the development of wind farms and waste-burning power plants is the government’s only model to support essential services for our young people and the elderly.”

Dr Nic Best, regional campaigns officer for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The retention of business rates from green developments could skew planning decisions, just as retention of business rates in enterprise zones and the cost of public inquiries could.”

However, such concerns have been dismissed as ridiculous by county council leader Jeff Reid.

Coun Reid, of Blyth’s Plessey ward, said: “This nonsense about using wind farms to supplement income is just ridiculous.

“These planning applications are not anything to do with revenue-raising or an instrument of taxation.

“All planning applications are dealt with within national policy and local frameworks.”

“The amount of money that we would need would never be raised by building more wind farms.

“It’s just scaremongering nonsense as far as I’m concerned.”