In the light of the recent application for a Wind Farm at Bullington Cross, constituents may be interested in the following.
Two Written Ministerial Statements have been laid before Parliament today by DCLG and DECC, outlining a new deal for communities regarding onshore wind. Taken together these announcements demonstrate a cross-government approach to increasing localism: shifting the balance of power to local communities in deciding whether to agree to onshore wind proposals.
This Government’s planning reforms in England are decentralising power – the Localism Act has abolished Regional Strategies, and the new streamlined national planning guidance has placed Local Plans in pole position to shape the level and character of development.
The planning approach which was inherited was leading to building the wrong wind farms in the wrong places. Too many wind farm decisions are being decided by Planning Inspectors on appeal, sidelining local people and local councils.
The new package of reforms should end speculative proposals: communities will be consulted much earlier in the process; community benefit will be greatly increased and unacceptable practices by developers will not be tolerated. Improved planning practice guidance will assist local councils and planning inspectors across England. The new guidance will state clearly that:
• The need for renewable energy does not by definition override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities.
• Decisions should take into account the cumulative impact of wind turbines and properly reflect the impact on (a) the landscape and (b) local amenity.
• Local topography should be a factor in assessing whether wind turbines have a damaging impact on the landscape. For example, it should be recognised that the impact on predominantly flat landscapes can be as great or greater than on hilly or mountainous ones.
• Great care should be taken to ensure heritage assets are conserved in a manner appropriate to their significance, including the impact on proposals on views important to their setting.
The Government is looking to local councils, through their Local Plans, to implement policies which ensure that adverse impacts from wind farms developments, including cumulative landscape and visual impact, are addressed satisfactorily. Councils should not feel they have to give permission for applications outside those areas where they judge the impact to be acceptable.
Sometimes local communities are not made aware of a planning application until it reaches the local planning committee and wind farm developers make little or no effort to canvas or take account of the views of local people. So the Government will be amending secondary legislation to make pre-application consultation with local communities compulsory in England for the more significant onshore wind applications (this is already the case for national infrastructure applications). This will ensure that community engagement takes place at an earlier stage in more cases and may assist in improving the quality of proposed onshore wind development.
We are also announcing a package of measures to improve community engagement. Renewables UK will now recommend to their members that developers provide financial benefits to communities of £5,000/MW of capacity per year for the lifetime of a development, a five-fold increase on the current figure.
Best practice guidance will make it clear that high standards are expected and a new register will monitor best practice. We will also support local planning offices to gain the skills they need to engage more confidently with developers. The support for onshore wind has already been reduced this April to 0.9 ROC/MWh, and this rate will be subject to yearly review.