The Government has announced a number of measures that it intends to put in place shortly to further regulate the development of new onshore windfarms. These are designed to give communities likely to be affected by this type of development a greater say in whether development is permitted. The most significant developments are outlined below.
Greater Community Involvement
In a statement released by Eric Pickles MP on Wednesday 5 June, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced that it will shortly issue guidance for Local Planning Authorities regarding onshore wind turbine planning applications. In summary, the effect of the guidance will be as follows:
- The need for renewable energy is not to override local communities’ objections;
- All decisions are to take into account the cumulative impact of wind turbines including the impact on the environment and local amenity;
- Landscape and visual impact will be given greater weight;
- Topography is to be a factor when considering whether wind turbines will have a damaging impact on the landscape;
- Care is to be taken to ensure the conservation of heritage assets;
- Mandatory pre-application consultations with local communities for “larger” applications, likely to mirror those which currently apply to onshore schemes generating 50MW per year (100MW off-shore) falling under the Planning Act 2008 regime for major infrastructure schemes.
This is yet another demonstration of the Government’s desire to be seen to be creating a more locally-led planning system. How much difference it will make in practice remains to be seen. Whatever guidance is issued will have to be compliant with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which, whilst requiring that local planning policies maximise renewable and low carbon targets, also emphasises the need to address satisfactorily adverse landscape, visual and other impacts. The recent High Court decision quashing consent for turbines near the Grade I listed Lyveden New Bield also demonstrates that even before the changes, it has not been a case of ”renewables at all costs”.
Revision of the Community Benefit Protocol
The Government has also indicated that it expects the Community Benefit Protocol to be revised by the end of the year to increase the recommended payment to affected communities to £5,000 per MW per year from the current £1,000 per MW per year for the lifespan of the windfarm. The Community Benefit Protocol is backed by the Government and was launched by RenewableUK, the trade association which represents the industry, in February 2011.
Despite the fact that the Protocol is not compulsory, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has indicated that it will establish a register of community benefits similar to the one that already exists in Scotland, which is likely to increase the pressure on developers to abide by the revisions.
Developers and communities will be required to work together when deciding how the money is to be used. Examples provided by the Government include discounted energy bills (already proving popular where it has been trialled), energy efficiency initiatives and training projects.
The revisions are expected to be in place by the end of the year. It is anticipated that the increase in payments may render some developments unviable, although these are likely in the main, to be small schemes in areas of lower wind speeds.
At the same time, DECC has announced:
- A new Community Energy Strategy to be published in the Autumn to contain Government proposals to encourage community ownership and investment in wind projects. It is currently calling for evidence on how to encourage community ownership. Responses are due by 1 August.
- A joint DECC/Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Rural Community Energy Fund to provide £15 million in loans and grants to rural communities.
- Financial support for onshore wind to be held at the same rate of 0.9 ROCs per MW/hr of electricity in 2014.
The above is only a summary and is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to the proposed changes. If you need any advice or assistance in connection with planning relating to a wind farm scheme, please contact Priscilla Hall who is the Head of our Renewables Sector or Neil Baker or Karen Howe in our Planning and Environment Team.