Last week, the Government announced amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to ease planning restrictions. The hope is that it will make it easier for onshore wind farms to be built, and end a de facto ban on such developments.
Under the current system, local authorities in England can reject an application to build an onshore windfarm based on a single objection from a local resident. In addition, any new development must also have been included in the local authority’s local development plan. These restrictions, which do not apply to other energy developments, have been criticised, as they effectively stop onshore wind development. Between 2016 and 2022, only 12 planning applications for onshore wind farms (totalling 21 turbines) in England were approved. That is only 2.7% of the number of turbines that had planning permission granted for the previous six years (2009 to 2015).
The amendments to the NPPF:
- give planning authorities the power to grant permissions if it can be demonstrated that local residents have been consulted (rather than every single concern needing to be addressed), with approval being given on the basis that local support can be evidenced (with local residents being incentivised with the proposal that they will benefit from cheaper energy bills); and
- allow potential windfarm sites to be identified and secured without needing to be fully assessed and included in the local authority’s local development plan
The hope is that this significantly dilutes the two planning tests from 2015. Going forward, wind turbines could now be permitted through Local Development Orders (LDOs) and Community Right to Build Orders.
The changes made to footnote 54 of the NPPF are designed by Government to ease the restrictions to onshore wind development, but many in the industry believe the changes will do little, if anything, to alter the current situation.
The revised NPPF still requires local planning authorities, when determining planning applications for renewable and low carbon development, to “approve the application if its impacts are (or can be made) acceptable”. Footnote 54 sets out the conditions that have to be met for development to be considered ‘acceptable’.
The revised footnote first provides that proposed wind farm projects must be located in an area where authorities have made provision for wind energy development – via their development plans or supplementary planning documents. Many in the industry have been quick to highlight that in practice, few authorities proactively identify areas for wind farm development and where they do it is not for commercial scale, modern-sized wind farms, or not in optimal locations that industry would select having regard to wind speeds and grid connection, etc.
The new footnote also states that planning permission can only be granted if, “following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been appropriately addressed and the proposal has community support”.
The previous footnote 54 wording required community-identified impacts to be “fully addressed” and referred to the need for “community backing” rather than community support.
The upshot is that the de facto ban on new onshore wind sites is likely to continue – the updated footnote 54 still states that new onshore wind proposals will not be acceptable as a starting point and the revised wording is unlikely to do much to move the dial.
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