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Caithness News Bulletins January 2003

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COUNCIL EAGER TO MAXIMISE COMMUNITY BENEFIT AND ENVIRONMENTAL TAXATION

The Highland Council is developing a strategy for maximising community benefit from large-scale renewable energy developments that have a long-term impact on the local environment. It believes it can be a model for other local councils throughout Scotland to adopt.

The Council is in the forefront of interest in wind farm developments and small scale hydro schemes and is anxious that developers are made aware from their first contact of the Council' s expectation that local communities should benefit.

It is also to lobby hard to ensure that communities benefit more from the distribution of the Aggregates Levy and the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme.

As planning authority, the Council has recently approved two wind farms applications and has received at least 15 firm indications of interest to develop wind farms. Many more are in the pipeline.

 The Council has clearly stated that it expects wind farm developments and hydro schemes to benefit the local community and contribute to the well being of the Highlands. Local community initiatives should benefit and where, new infrastructure is required, developers will be expected to pay those costs as an integral part of the development.

Councillor Ian Ross, Chairman of The Highland Council's Sustainable Development Select Committee, said: > "> The Council has taken swift and positive action to ensure that our communities benefit from the huge interest in wind farm and hydro development in Highland. In Sutherland alone, I am aware of more than a dozen proposals to develop wind farms.  All developers will be made aware from their first contact with the Council that local communities must benefit.  I would like to think that the model we finalise will be used by other councils throughout Scotland."

The Council is confident it can deliver on this issue.   It is more concerned that it does not have the influence to ensure that communities benefit fully from the Aggregates Levy, which is payable on all primary aggregate consumed in the United Kingdom, and from the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme.

An estimated 90% of the Aggregates Levy is used to reduce employers> '>  National Insurance contributions, while the remainder is used to establish sustainability funds.  Scotland's share of sustainability funding is 3 million  - 1.5 million of which will be distributed through Community Environmental Renewal Grants.  The Council has been advised that Highland groups succeeded in attracting funding of 164,000 from the first round of grant distribution and that 600,000 was not allocated.

Highland Councillors believe that Highlands does badly from the legislation as it contributes 25-30% of the Scottish element of taxation yet has only 4% of the working population .A fair hand out to Highland would be 800,000 per year and much more if Scotland  received it's fair share from the Treasury.

It is to lobby hard for Highland groups to benefit more from the fund and to question why Forward Scotland has been chosen by the Executive to administer the fund without consultation with local councils and without having to face competition.

Councillor Michael Foxley has been at the forefront of community benefit policies and has successfully argued that local communities must directly benefit from the use of their local resource.

He said:  "Glensanda super quarry alone contributes 4.8 million in Aggregates Tax and yet a very modest bid from Morvern for a grant towards a sustainable community sawmill was rejected  by the Executive. We will continue to fight hard for a fair deal for local communities affected by quarrying in the Highlands. This means more money back from the Treasury and then a fairer targeted share for the Highlands."

The Council is also concerned that changes to the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme will result in reduced allocations of funding to Highland environmental groups.  Since the tax was introduced in 1996, the sum available for annual allocation has risen to 500,000. With the radical reforms indicated in the Chancellor> '> s pre-budget report on 13 November, last year, and the closure of the Longman Landfill Site, Inverness, it is feared that this sum will be significantly reduced.

The Council is to pursue an active campaign to secure a commitment from the Scottish Executive that its Landfill Tax spending programme will enable Highland communities to continue to source adequate funds for sustainable waste management programmes.