Energy company is accused of bullying

IAN CLARKE A wind energy company yesterday got clearance to keep a test mast in place but only after being branded as "a bully" and accused of "riding roughshod over the planning system.

IAN CLARKE

A wind energy company yesterday got clearance to keep a test mast in place but only after being branded as "a bully" and accused of "riding roughshod over the planning system."

Breckland councillors launched a ferocious verbal attack on Ecotricity accusing it of offering bribes and inducements, "conning" the authority and being scared of facing tough questions by not attending a planning meeting.

Despite the assault, the development control committee voted to allow the company to keep a 50-metre test pole on a site just north of Shipdham, near Dereham, where two 100-metre wind turbines are set to be built.

Ecotricity has previously won approval for the turbines after a bitter fight and says it needs the results from the test mast to reassure financial backers for the scheme.

However, it put up the pole without planning permission last November and had to apply for retrospective permission.

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It had wanted to keep the mast up until April next year.

But Breckland councillors said Ecotricity could only have permission until November and it would then have to come down or the company would face legal action.

The council is also going to "strongly request" the results of the tests from the mast.

Ecotricity had been asked to attend the meeting to explain why the test pole was needed, but the company wrote to say it had no one available.

Local councillor Paul Hewett said: "We should stand up to bullies and reject the application."

He said Ecotricity "thinks nothing of offering bribes or inducements for new radar systems or swimming pools in order to oil the application process."

Principal planning officer Greg Britton said there had been "a number" of objections on the grounds of the company riding roughshod over the planning process and the need for the mast.

Council solicitor John Chinnery said the original permission for the wind turbines was being challenged but it was still valid.

John Labouchere said: "We are being conned and it stinks. I am really angry and they are mucking us about."

Brian Kidd, chairman of the Campaign Against Turbines at Shipdham and Scarning, said Ecotricity's absence from the meeting "demonstrated their contempt" for the planning process, the planning authority and members.

"A more likely explanation is that they do not wish to be exposed to some searching questions."

Earl Cathcart said Ecotricity was "getting itself in a muddle."

But Michael Fanthorpe - who described turbines as "things of beauty" - accused opponents of being "silly and backward-looking."