In a written ministerial statement planning practice guidance has been tightened to work against onshore wind farm development. Now planning permission should only be granted for onshore turbines 'if the development site is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in a local or neighbourhood plan' and if the 'planning impacts identified by local communities have been fully addressed'. This is a clear move away from placing onshore wind development as a national priority (such as has happened for shale oil and gas) making it more vulnerable to local opposition.
This approach will also be reinforced by the Energy Bill which was introduced into the House of Lords on 9 July and is approaching the final stages before receiving royal assent, expected to be in early 2016.
Under the Energy Bill it is proposed that the need for the Secretary of State's approval for large onshore wind farms (over 50 Mega Watts) through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime will be removed. In effect this will transfer the consenting of new onshore wind farms into the local planning regime and support the new 'local backing' test.
Recent refusals by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, show that this policy is already taking hold. An application for ten turbines in Lincolnshire was refused on the basis that it failed to satisfy the new test, and another in Peterborough saw him go against the inspector's recommendation and refuse the application, again for a failure to meet the test.
Clark has been clear that he will attach 'significant weight' to any failure to comply with the local backing test, and it seems the vast majority of applications are therefore destined to fail. It will be almost impossible to show that the concerns of the local community have been 'fully addressed' when interpreted as strictly as Clark appears to. Furthermore, very few local and neighbourhood plans identify wind farm sites, meaning most applications will also fail on this limb of the new test.
It is notable that both EDF and REG Windpower, in relation to their respective proposals at Driffield and Croft Bank near Skegness, have withdrawn the schemes citing the impact of the recent planning changes. Gone with the wind? It would seem so.
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