Wind farm developers have rebuffed claims that making payments to communities that host their projects threatens the planning system.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) this week argued that increasing numbers of communities are being drawn into accepting goodwill payments from wind developers. It said the practice lacks transparency because council planners have little or no oversight of such payments. Communities gain a fraction of what they would receive through section 106 deals or the proposed community infrastructure levy (CIL) that apply to most other developers, it maintained.

CPRE senior planning campaigner Paul Miner said: "We support the need for increased investment in renewable energy. But goodwill payments could bring the planning system into disrepute. Energy companies should be required to work through the planning process in the same way as any other developer."

But an npower renewables spokesman said it works closely to government best practice guidelines. "We wait for a positive planning determination of the wind farm before discussing the community benefit package," he insisted. "Where we need to discuss this earlier, any talks are with officers and councillors not involved in the planning process."

The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) called traditional section 106 deals unduly restrictive. It wants reforms to allow community benefit funds to be part of the planning system.

A BWEA spokesman said: "We need to leave room for local democracy. Communities should be empowered and have a stake in how the proceeds are managed."

An E.ON spokeswoman added: "We work with communities and give them the chance to judge for themselves what they need the most. A standardised approach to community funds could potentially limit the support offered to them."