Planning for wind farms currently a 'mess', says developer

England's planning environment for wind farms is currently a 'mess', a developer has said, as he accused communities secretary Eric Pickles of over-reaching himself in overturning judgements by local councils and inspectors.

Richard Mardon, chief executive officer of Airvolution Energy speaking at Planning’s energy and environment conference
Richard Mardon, chief executive officer of Airvolution Energy speaking at Planning’s energy and environment conference

Richard Mardon, chief executive officer of Airvolution Energy, was speaking about the financial viability of wind farms at Planning’s energy and environment conference in London yesterday.

He warned that the roll-out of onshore wind in the UK is at risk of being "squeezed out" by government planning constraints, as well as the state of the electricity market.

About 80 per cent of all onshore wind appeals were now being recovered by communites secretary Eric Pickles, Mardon said, with a success rate for projects of 13 per cent.

He said: "I think [Eric Pickles] has over-stretched his remit slightly because he’s actually throwing out schemes that are voted locally as well, so he’s calling in projects that have had recommendation for approval and a local committee has voted in favour of the scheme. That's localism gone barmy.

"There's been a number of occasions where he’s overturned an inspector’s decision on approval against the policy judgement which is difficult to interpret."

Mardon added: "Planning needs to be sorted out; it's a mess at the moment."

He also said that wind farm developers feel like they are being "picked on".

He said: "We try to site projects in a very sensitive way, near brownfield land or motorways. But developers sometimes don't always get it right. Not all supermarket or housing developers get it right.

"But we seem to be under the spotlight. As soon as one wind farm developer does something wrong, there is talk of banning the whole business.

"It seems a little unfair. We feel like we are being picked on a little bit."

According to Mardon, about 5,000MW of consented wind farms had still not been built, of which at least 1,000MW will "probably not" be built.

Speaking earlier, Kate Henderson, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Associationsaid that planning for onshore wind farms has been "politicised beyond belief" by the coalition government.

In response to Mardon's comments, communities Minister Kris Hopkins said: "Inappropriately sited wind turbines can be a blight on the landscape, harming the local environment and damaging heritage for miles around.

"The government has intentionally and transparently changed official planning guidance and appeal recovery rules to ensure that these issues are better taken into account.

"Every appeal is considered with due process on its individual merits, based on the particular circumstances of the case. 

"In the last year, only a mere three wind farm applications have been called-in, and all three followed representations by local or neighbouring Members of Parliament."

The Planning for Energy Infrastructure and Environmental Sustainability conference was organised by Planning magazine with ENDS Environmental Data Services and Waste Planning, and sponsored by Border Archaeology and Pegasus Group.

NOTE: this story was updated at 8pm on Wednesday, December 3, to add a comment by the communities minister Kris Hopkins.

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