So we have a report today of another Community Council torn apart by Community Benefit. The Chair of Strathnairn Community Council, Jenny Stewart, resigned from Strathnairn Community Council as part of an ongoing and bitter squabble that has erupted over the Community Benefit from the controversial 33 turbine Dunmaglass Wind Farm in the Monadhliaths. The problem stems from calls for her resignation over this made originally a while ago when she refused to stand down. Strathnairn benefits to a greater or lessor extent from several wind farms in the area. I am not going to enter the debate on the rights or wrongs of this case but it is one of many such frictions in local communities. One area of conflict is that Community Councils aren’t allowed to hold assets so the normal procedure is to form a local Community Trust. Directors of this trust may be community councillors or may be others in the community. The ones with enthusiasm to spend the money may very well have self interests in particular areas; the local school or perhaps local shinty club; may have allegiances with the land owner who hosts the wind farm or may be more altruistic. However they will normally be enthusiasts for more and more community benefit often bearing no thought to those impacted and fighting more developments in the area or even just extensions. It is of no surprise that those most likely to put themselves forward for such trusts either live remote from the actual wind farms and sometimes even outwith the area. Very often those on Community Councils, who volunteer to support the area, do not wish to get involved in the finances and frictions of Community Trusts. In this way Community Benefit becomes a cancer in the community, creating divisions and frictions that were never on the surface before. I am sure that many Community Trusts work well with their Community Councils and manage funds well. Many trusts have been established for many years, often to raise funds and manage lottery funding for community halls and sports grounds. They should not be confused with the more opportunistic trusts put in place for Community Benefit from wind farms where all they have to do is spend, spend, spend. However experience might suggest that the ‘successful’ wind farm benefit ones are in the minority. What is far more the case is open warfare, red in tooth and claw!
There is also the question that the new model adopted by SSE for Community Benefit is not to hand a large sum to a Community Trust to dispense but to handle it in-house with those elements; school, shinty, hall, etc.; applying directly to SSE for funding. Fifty per cent will go to regional funds that benefit such as education; training SSE engineers?; and large projects. The benefit to SSE is the PR that such actions accrue. Whether other developers will go down this line remains to be seen.
And never forget that Community Benefit is in truth our own money extracted through surcharges on electricity bills and a fraction handed back in the form of a voluntary donation for hosting a wind farm.