Legal development

Planning policy stranglehold for onshore wind projects in England loosens


    Ever since the 2015 general election, there has been an effective "planning moratorium" on onshore wind development in England. This is because the Government changed the national planning policy framework (the "NPPF") to make onshore wind projects unacceptable unless they (i) were identified in local development plans, and (ii) had the backing of local communities.

    This is now starting to change albeit not dramatically.

    Yesterday, the Secretary of State issued a WMS and published an updated version of the NPPF. The key changes are:

    • suitable locations for projects can be identified by other planning mechanisms to local development plans (which can take years). The options suggested are Local Development Orders, Neighbourhood Development Orders, Community Right to Build Orders. This is also a reference to supplementary planning documents, which have a less exacting process than development plans;
    • instead of having to demonstrate that planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been "fully addressed" and the proposal has "their backing", it now suggests that the planning impacts identified by affected local communities only have to be "appropriately addressed" and that the proposal "has community support"; and
    • for repowering and life-extension applications, significant weight should be given to the benefits of utilising an established site.

    The new NPPF is now in effect.

    Some commentators previously expressed disappointment that these changes were quite modest. This is true, with the changes revealing the fine line this Government is walking between enabling Net Zero and not antagonising the shires.

    Nevertheless, the changes are notable because:

    • there is now strong policy support for repowering and life-extension projects;
    • there is an emphasis on achieving a balanced view from local communities and not letting a vocal minority opposing a project dominate the airwaves; and
    • the Government has proposed alternative routes to identify and allocate new sites (albeit it is questionable if these are as agile as the Government suggests).

    Further guidance will also be published in the Autumn on "rewards and benefits" for host communities. This may include "potential energy bill discounts" but we need to wait and see on this.

    While the NPPF changes are unlikely to bring about a radical step change locally, they signal a shift in national policy support that loosens the policy knot that has previously stifled onshore wind projects in England. In doing so, the new NPPF provides some limited room for manoeuvre for those projects that can tap into areas where there is local support for renewable energy initiatives.

    The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to.
    Readers should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.


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