Clark's wind farm test looks tougher than ever, by Richard Garlick

In this issue, we take a close look at communities minister Greg Clark's recent decisions on wind farms.

Both countryside campaigners and the wind power industry are following his verdicts closely at the moment, as both seek to understand the new community backing test created by his written ministerial statement on onshore wind in June.

The statement says onshore wind applications should only be approved if, following consultation, "it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been fully addressed and therefore the proposal has their backing".

But how do you judge whether such impacts have been fully addressed. Do you need to demonstrate that all local opposition has been totally eliminated?

The development management committee at Rossendale Borough Council in Lancashire thought not, when in September it approved a proposal to add 14 wind turbines to the 26 turbine Scout Moor Wind Farm onshore wind farm.

They accepted officers’ advice that whether the planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been addressed was a "planning judgement for the local planning authority", and hence decided that they were empowered to go ahead and approve the scheme, even though some local opposition remains.

The council’s verdict prompted some optimism in the wind power industry, as it suggested that the new test might not be quite as onerous as originally thought. However, central government is now considering whether to call in the decision, so it is not yet clear whether Rossendale councillors’ reasoning will pass muster with the secretary of state.

Indeed, Clark’s decision last month on energy firm REG Windpower’s application to build four wind turbines to the north-east of Peterborough suggests that he does not agree that local authority approval of a scheme is enough in itself to demonstrate community backing. In this case, the council had resolved to approve the scheme before it was called in.

Yet Clark rejected the application, saying he was "not satisfied that the planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been addressed". As grounds for this, he cited the fact that "several members of the affected communities have repeated the concerns which they expressed previously about the planning impacts of the scheme". Local authority approval was not adequate to demonstrate community backing, because "several" objectors still remained.

As one commentator in this week’s issue says, it suggests that the secretary of state means that, to demonstrate that local community concerns have been "fully addressed", you must show that they have been eliminated.

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