What Clark's reading of new wind farm rules means for planners

Communities secretary Greg Clark has ruled that four wind energy proposals do not comply with new rules requiring such applications to have community backing.

Wind power: minister’s requirements prove stringent
Wind power: minister’s requirements prove stringent

Secretary of state wind farm refusals are mounting. Four times last month, communities secretary Greg Clark has turned down wind schemes citing their failure to comply with new rules requiring them to have community backing among his reasons for refusal.

In a case involving ten turbines in Lincolnshire, he agreed with an inspector’s findings, while in another case, involving four turbines on French Farm near Peterborough, he went against the inspector’s recommendation. Two smaller applications – in Yorkshire and Cumbria – have also been rejected by Clark, with the decision notes stating too that the proposals had failed to comply with the new rules.

Clark’s decision notices make clear that, while other factors weighed against the applications, he attached significant weight to the proposals’ failure to comply with the new test, set out in a written ministerial statement from June. The statement says local authorities should only grant permission if the development site is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy in a local or neighbourhood plan, and that, following consultation, "it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been fully addressed".

Paul Maile, partner and head of planning and infrastructure consenting at law firm Eversheds, said the French Farm refusal is far more telling than that in Lincolnshire because Clark overruled the inspector and local authority, which had supported the application. "The ministerial statement makes it clear that the question of whether the concerns of the community have been fully addressed is a matter for the local authority. In this case, the council was not opposed to the scheme, so considered all the objections and planning policy and applied its planning judgement to conclude that everything had been ‘fully addressed’."

Clark’s ruling is concerning, said Maile, because it implies that "fully addressing" a community’s concerns actually means "eliminating" them. This, Maile adds, is not only "almost impossible with any form of development", it also contradicts national planning policy, which "says that you can’t eliminate landscape and visual effects".

Tim Taylor, partner and head of planning at law firm Foot Anstey, told Planning that the recent decisions make it "quite clear where the government wants this to go: fewer wind farms."

Adrian French, director of planning (energy and infrastructure) at consultancy WYG, added that the new tests make it much harder for onshore wind to win approval, especially given that it is "very uncommon" for local and neighbourhood plans to have identified wind energy sites. To stand a chance of success applicants must focus carefully on "all objections raised by the community, and where these are material to planning, ensure that these are also fully addressed," he said. He added that even where planning objections have only been received from a minority of the community, the "prospect of a refusal is very real".

Gemma Grimes, director of policy for consents and intelligence at industry body RenewableUK, said the new rules, along with "the current policy outlook" for onshore wind, means that fewer developers will come forward with wind schemes. But Taylor is more optimistic. "The test will make developers submit very robust applications, but it should not mean the end of the wind industry. By definition developers develop, so they will adapt."

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