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Crowdwars - the first casualty is the community

Between a rock and a hard place might best describe the position of Forest of Dean District Council (FoDDC) whose planning approval for a wind turbine hasn't gone down well with a group of local residents.  They've raised an appeal on Crowdjustice platform to fund a judical review.

Their foe, otherwise known as Reslience Energy Severndale have raised an appeal to defend themselves on the Crowdfunder platform  

In their planning approval notice, FoDDC have stipulated the requirement that the project must be run as a Community Benefit Society, a form of cooperative in which surplus revenue is used for the benefit of the community, rather than being distributed to its members.  This also conforms to the widely accepted definition of a social enterprise.

The objections are:

  1. That Community projects can be given positive weight in the planning process, and in this case in giving positive weight in their decision making the Forest of Dean District Council planning committe acted unlawfully.
  2. That a Community Benefit Society (Cooperative) is not an appropriate legal entity under which to bring forwards such projects and cannot be considered to be a legal structure with overriding benefit to the local community.

In their own right, crowdfunding. renewable energy and social enterprise, each offer the means to deliver social benefit. Not in this case, it seems.

My first instinct, having read the Resilence story first , was that this was a corporate objection. The kind of action we might see under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which will allow corporations to sue governments which legislate against their activities, for loss of revenue.

Understandably some residents are not enamoured with the idea of being surrounded by wind turbines. Their concerns should not just be dismissed. Yet by taking a stand against community projects, they risk a corporate invasion which deliver them in far greater numbers.

An interesting point from those opposed is that all of the proposed installations are from one developer. Are their no other local energy proposals?   I was reminded of my own approaches to FoDDC when seeking to become a supplier.

In 2010 there had been a public meeting over the lending of council tax funds to support a healthcare social enterprise. I took the opportunity to raise a question about support.

"The Council does not have a specific policy to offer support to social enterprises.  The financial support provided to the Forest of Dean Health & Social Care CIC resulted from a specific decision of the full Council - the history of which is included in our agenda papers at tonight's meeting."

By their condition that a wind turbine operates as social enterprise, it would seem that FoDDC at least have some inclination to create such entities. To me, no specific policy means a selective policy with no coherent guidelines.  The Health and Social Community Interest Company served the interests of a consultant, if anyone. 

In our 1996 paper we's argued against what had been long accepted as the social responsibility of business. delivering a financial return to sharholder, with the point that with the mandate of shareholders and directors and a statement of purpose in the company charter, any business could operate entirely for the benefit of the community, placing surplus in an irrevocable trust under oversight of community leaders.

In other words if a Community Benefit Society is objected to, Resilence Energy could do the same thing by registering as a conventional business. 

Otherwise we have a zero sum game, where one side loses all and only the lawyers benefit