Issued by: Department of Energy and Climate Change
Issue date: 7 October 2014
Background: In 2013, the government promised to issue best practice guidance on community benefits from wind farms and on the engagement expected between developers, communities and local authorities in considering such projects. Guidance published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change earlier this month meets that commitment.
Key points: The best practice documents relate to all onshore wind schemes in England, including nationally significant infrastructure projects over 50 megawatts. Written by not-for-profit body Regen SW, they offer advice on the preparatory, planning and post-consent phases of development for all parties.
The community benefits guidance recommends no payment levels, referring instead to trade body RenewableUK's voluntary protocol for developers to offer index-linked payments of at least £5,000 per megawatt of installed capacity a year. It also points to the scope for variable annual payments linked to profit or output and one-off sums.
The guidance sets out six fundamental principles to establish community benefit provision, saying it should be timely, transparent, constructive, inclusive, fair and unconditional. It asks developers to state their approach to community benefits when scheme details are announced. It urges all parties to engage positively and create relationships based on mutual trust and says all discussions should involve a wide range of stakeholders.
The guidance emphasises: "The offer of community benefits should not be dependent upon support from the community for the wind development, or the granting of consent by the local planning authority." It says developers should make clear to all parties that engagement in discussions "does not affect their right to have a view on the development through the planning process".
The guidance says councils can still play a very important role in enabling and discussing community benefits. But it says local authorities' "primary role" here is to support the sustainable development of communities under their jurisdiction and ensure that talks "do not unduly influence the determination of applications".
Material and socioeconomic benefits to be considered in the planning process are not covered by the guidance. However, it notes that the Localism Act 2011 lets councils factor in financial benefits where there is a "direct connection between the intended use of the funds and the development".
To ensure transparency, the advice says all benefit packages should be included on the English Community Benefits Register, due to go live this year. It also confirms that a task force will be launched to realise the government's aim "for communities to be offered the opportunity of some level of ownership of new commercial onshore renewable energy developments".