Onshore wind set to be permitted in UK regions where residents support development

In a major green policy U-turn, the UK Government will consult on whether national planning policy frameworks should be changed to make onshore wind farm development easier in regions where local communities would support new arrays.

Onshore wind set to be permitted in UK regions where residents support development

The report argues that aspects like biodiversity and adaptation aren't accounted for under current taxonomies

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announced the decision late on Tuesday (6 December), confirming that the consultation will be open before Christmas and will conclude before the end of April 2023.

The consultation is being launched after dozens of Conservative MPs supported an amendment tabled for the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill by Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesborough South and East Cleveland. The amendment would result in an alteration of planning rules so that onshore wind development would become easier in areas with local support – similar to the approach that Liz Truss implemented for fracking. Development will still be restricted in National Parks, the Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It has been extremely challenging to develop new onshore wind turbines since 2016, due to a tightening of planning restrictions under David Cameron and the exclusion of onshore wind from the Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction process eligibility list. Onshore wind was added back into the CfD in 2020 under Boris Johnson, but planning rules remained unchanged. It bears noting that Johnson and Truss both supported Clarke’s amendment. Also in support is COP26 President Alok Sharma.

Clarke called the decision “pragmatic” and said he “welcomed it warmly”. He thanked the Conservative Environment Network, which is supported by more than 100 Tory MPs, for supporting his work to get the amendment through.

“Poll after poll shows this is what people want to happen,” Clarke said. “What I and fellow Conservative MPs have said is simply that communities ought to be able to make this decision for themselves, rather than have Whitehall rule it out.”

Some Conservative MPs opposed the amendment, citing concerns about the loss of agricultural land.

But the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has acknowledged that MPs believe that the change would help to deliver the Energy Security Strategy commitments. The Strategy includes targets for 95% of Britain’s electricity generation to be clean by 2030, increasing to 100% by 2035.

However, the Department is seeking advice on how local support could be measured and other technical elements of the scheme. Those wishing to contribute to the consultation are being asked to write to 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF. Alternatively, submissions can be made by email to correspondence@levellingup.gov.uk.

The timing of the consultation is noteworthy. Chris Skidmore MP recently finished the collection of evidence for his Net-Zero Review, which was launched under Truss in a bid to ensure that the UK takes the most “pro-growth, pro-business” pathway to meeting its 2050 climate target. Recommendations are due out in the coming weeks, government officials have stated, and the government should then respond in spring.

Warm reaction

As expected, the decision has been warmly welcomed by renewable energy developers and green groups.

Vattenfall’s Head of UK onshore development Frank Elsworth said: “If this is a genuine move which will put onshore wind on a level playing field with other infrastructure in England, it will send a very positive signal that the Government is serious about harnessing the benefits which onshore development can unleash for the environment, the economy and communities.

“Vattenfall’s experience in England, Wales and Scotland has shown that people respond positively when they see the benefits that development brings in the form of investment, jobs, and support for local businesses. There doesn’t need to be a one-size-fits-all approach to community engagement – the most successful projects are those that enable communities to help shape the way the wind farm will benefit the surrounding area.”

Zosia North-Bond, the chief executive of Octopus Energy Group’s generation arm, added: “Onshore wind is one of the cheapest and quickest forms of energy we can generate right here on our soil – and by removing the red tape, we can build it fast for communities that want it.

“By putting this green power in the hands of supportive local communities, we can bring cheap local energy to more people, increasing our energy security and reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels.”

Also responding to the move was the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s (ECIU) head of energy Jess Ralston. She said: “The de-facto ban on onshore wind has been a seven-year anomaly in UK energy policy, keeping household bills higher and the UK more dependent on foreign gas. Whether deployment speeds up will now come down to the detail of the planning rule changes.”

Comments (1)

  1. John Mathias says:

    What is needed to make this successful is to allow local residents to buy shares in the onshore wind developments. That way they will have an interest in their development and benefit from their success.

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