Windfarm bid rejected in face of promised jobs

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PLANNING bosses have rejected a bid for a new windfarm despite a promise from developers to help hundreds of unemployed people.

Power firm Infinis had offered to set up an Employability Fund, administered in partnership with East Durham College, and worth £62,500 per year if permission for the development at Wingate Grange Farm, near Wheatley Hill, was given the green light.

But Durham County Council’s planning committee agreed a recommendation from officers to reject the application after hearing residents felt there were enough windfarms in the area already.

A petition and more than 160 letters of objection were received, alongside 210 letters of support.

The committee heard the council’s spatial policy team said the plan breached local planning policies and national development guidance.

Project manager Tim Mockridge said: “We are obviously disappointed by the committee’s decision.

“We felt, and continue to believe, that we have put forward a high quality planning application in accordance with all necessary planning policy.

“Without the help and support of the likes of East Durham College, the Employability Trust, Chamber of Commerce & Business Durham and the local community centres, we would not have got to this point.

“We committed to a number of local partnerships that would have provided genuine benefits, both social and economic to the local communities, and are frustrated that a slim majority of councillors did not agree that these benefits outweigh the concern raised by their planning officials.”

East Durham College principal Suzanne Duncan, who spoke in support of the application at the hearing, said: “We are extremely disappointed. Wingate Grange represented an opportunity to give a significant number of local people, at least 500 over the lifetime of the project, a helping hand in gaining access to vital skills training that we know leads to employment and that would otherwise not be available.

“Given the levels of disadvantage in these communities, it is a real shame that the committee did not consent the application.”

Alongside the agreement with the college, Infinis had also agreed a partnership with local charity, East Durham Employability Trust, to provide funding of £30,000 to train at least 10 local people and had proposed a one off grant of £21,000 to three local community centres to subsidise their energy costs.