The Government has published its proposed reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Comments are being sought up to 2nd March 2023.

Contained within it are a limited number of changes of some significance to onshore wind within England. Whilst much anticipated, it continues to feel like a missed opportunity and the outcome of political compromises.

The proposed wording for paragraph 160 (c) now indicates that local planning authorities should “approve an application for the repowering and life-extension of existing renewables sites, where its impacts are or can be made acceptable. The impacts of repowered and life-extended sites should be considered for the purposes of this policy from the baseline existing on the site”.

This is a positive step and shuts down any lingering debate about where life-extension fits in the repowering regime and will now prevent a re-occurrence elsewhere of the circumstances that led to the appeal at Kirkby Moor. The presumption is now to approve, which demonstrates Government support in principle for repowering/life-extension schemes. At a time when energy security is a substantial issue, along with broad public support for onshore wind, keeping and encouraging more of what we have is a prudent move. Local planning authorities should take heed and approve life extensions and work positively with applicants for other forms of repowering.

Footnote 54 of the current NPPF is amended (now proposed to be FN63) and an additional footnote is added (FN62).

Within FN62 the NPPF proposes that wind energy development for one or more turbines can be granted through Local Development Orders, Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders – but only if it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been appropriately addressed and the proposal has community support.

As with FN54, FN63 carves repowering from the ‘tests’ that require wind energy developments to be within an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in the Development Plan. This is now extended by FN63 to include identification within a supplementary planning document (where there is a development plan policy that includes policy on supporting renewable energy). The final sentence of FN54 is now proposed to be amended to replace the need for planning impacts to have been ‘satisfactorily’ (as opposed to ‘fully’) addressed and that the proposal has ‘community support’ (as opposed to community ‘backing’).

The key points remain arising from the proposed amendments  are (1) how do you define an affected local community and then (2) what measure is applied to assess community support? The Government’s Ministerial Statement earlier this month suggested some form of guidance would be issued on this, including an IT based toolkit. This may move the matter forward, yet the substance and detail set out in this forthcoming guidance must surely form an important context as to how the wind energy sector responds to the NPPF consultation draft.

The final relevant inclusion is within proposed paragraph 157, it is now stated that development plans should provide a positive strategy for renewable and low carbon energy and heat sources, with a maximisation the potential for suitable development, and ‘their future repowering and maintenance’. The reference to maintenance is unclear, it would be quite odd for the planning system to concern itself with the normal meaning of the word, rather is this an indication for longer consent periods for proposals (i.e. beyond the English default of 25 years)? If so, this would be a welcome and credible step forward.

In summary, much more clarity and context is needed, along with detail of proposed changes to the NPPF, for the proposed wording to be effective in encouraging more onshore wind deployment in England.

Just add in my own footnote, at COP27 Rishi Sunak said that ‘fighting climate change is not just a moral good – it is fundamental to our future prosperity and security…we need to move further and faster to transition to renewable energy, and I will ensure the UK is at the forefront of this global movement as a clean-energy superpower’. If the measure of this is statement and perhaps community support is binary, I note that paragraph 122 of the proposed changes to the NPPF includes 80 new words to support mansard roof extensions, whilst renewable energy gets 99 words.

This article was written by Chris Calvert, for more information about the contents of this article, please contact us.