“I am a very rich duke, a most agreeable thing to be, even in these days,” says Fabrice de Sauveterre in The Pursuit of Love. And it still is. From Keswick to Kensington these are hard times in Britain: mortgages up, fuel up, fares up, heating bills up, child benefit and social security down.
The Treasury is poring over ways to make more cash to plug the deficit in the Budget this month, whether from the disabled, middle-class mothers or bankers in £2 million white stuccoed houses. But one group is still receiving massive handouts — the dukes and earls of this kingdom.
Many are in receipt of a large government cheque not because they live on a desolate council estate surrounded by unemployment but because they are sitting on their own estates. Their undeserved windfall comes from permitting the building of wind farms on their rolling acres.
Ah, you might say, but they should be compensated for allowing these ugly monstrosities on their land; it must be irritating to glimpse a turbine as they look out of the drawing-room windows. But the sums involved are worth as much as their grand masters. They wouldn’t scribble over their Constables, but they are happy to spoil some of the most beautiful moorlands and mountains of Britain to get cash.
By 2020 the Government will be handing over £100 million a year in rents to landowners simply for the right to put turbines on their turf. Property agents suggest that each large turbine generates around £40,000 a year risk-free for the landowner.
The Earl of Moray is reported to rake in nearly £2 million a year from his wind farm in Perthshire; the Duke of Roxburghe is expected to make £1.5 million a year from his development in the Lammermuir Hills. The Duke of Gloucester has given West Coast Energy permission for a scheme on his Northamptonshire estate that could generate £3 million over 25 years. Even the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, Sir Reginald Sheffield, is in on it, making £1,000 a day in rent in Lincolnshire. It’s enough for a peasants’ revolt, but all the landowners seem to care about is whether the blades will interfere with their pheasants.
What is astonishing about this money, financed by huge government subsidies, is just how little the landlords have to do. A mansion tax would not just affect those with inherited homes but those who have bought with the taxed proceeds of hard work. If ministers want to penalise the acquisition of huge sums by luck rather than judgment, they should be looking at wind energy rather than the housing market.
Perhaps even these undeserved gains (akin to the agricultural subsidies the same landowners have for years pocketed from Brussels) would be acceptable if they provided Britain with its most cost-effective, sustainable and efficient energy source and generated British jobs for British workers.
But wind farms fail on all these counts. Under the renewable energy obligation, electricity firms have to buy a percentage of their power from renewable sources. They then hand the extra cost, currently £1.4 billion a year but as much as £10 billion by 2020, on to consumers. It’s a green tax, only it doesn’t show up on your tax bill but your utilities bill. The Government may argue that, having signed up to European targets for reducing greenhouse gases, the only way to meet them is with wind farms. But they are more expensive than other power sources and even the turbines aren’t manufactured in Britain any more. […]
Now it’s up to the Chancellor. The final paragraph of his Budget speech this month should read: “I have received representations about a small group of the undeserving rich who believe that their windfall profits are untouchable. Having considered the options, I have decided not to introduce a wealth tax on housing, but instead to abolish subsidies to wind farms.”