On 18th May 2020, Chris Calvert was a panellist on a Kings Chambers ‘Winds of Change’ podcast. The podcast concentrated on matters applicable to that time, climate change, declaration of climate change emergencies by Local Authorities, energy security and the different policy positions across the UK nations.

Chris advised that onshore wind in England was the Cinderella of the UK nations. Given the Statement by Michael Gove MP and Grant Shapps MP on 6th December 2022, Cinders may now get to go the ball – we are just not sure how, yet.

To recap, onshore wind deployment in England has substantially halted and in planning terms is held back by footnote 49 (now 54) of the NPPF. This was framed by the Written Ministerial Statement by Eric Pickles MP, dated 6th June 2013. Here FN54 states that:

“Except for applications for the repowering of existing wind turbines, a proposed wind energy development involving one or more turbines should not be considered acceptable unless it is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in the development plan; and, following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been fully addressed and the proposal has their backing”.

Since the Written Ministerial Statement by Eric Pickles, few planning permissions have been granted for new wind energy schemes in England. Equally, only a handful of sites have been allocated for wind energy schemes. The shift in planning policy, coupled with the cessation of financial subsidies had the desired effect.

However, as Bob Dylan sang ‘the times they are a changing’. The bouncing political landscape, from Johnson, to Truss and now Sunak (albeit it led by ‘rebel MP’s) has developed a more positive outlook for onshore wind in England. Informed by the Labour Party’s stated positive position for onshore wind, an ever-improving public attitude towards onshore wind, the better understanding of climate change and energy security, it appears that Parliament has now woken up to the prospect of more onshore deployment in England.

The statement by Gove and Shapps states that:

“Under the proposals, planning permission would be dependent on a project being able to demonstrate local support and satisfactorily address any impacts identified by the local community. Local authorities would also have to demonstrate their support for certain areas as being suitable for onshore wind, moving away from rigid requirements for sites to be designated in local plans”.

The means as to how this is to be achieved is not yet clear, further consultation is to follow (this being expected imminently). What is clear is that the Government remains committed to decisions upon new onshore wind energy schemes being made at the local level, with some form of guidance upon how local authorities are able to demonstrate local support and how to respond to views of their communities when considering onshore wind development in England (this will include some form of digital engagement to encourage participation). This may include community partnership to lower energy bills and views on how infrastructure, such as the grid are upgraded to encourage the upgrading of existing wind farms (i.e. repowering).

This month’s statement also indicates that the non-NSIP position for onshore wind will remain, having previously been muted in the British Energy Security Strategy from April 2022. Evidently, the NPPF and the NPPG will need to be amended and LPA’s will need support to re-acquaint themselves with planning considerations applicable to the wind energy sector.

There is also the continued policy protection for National Parks, AONB and interestingly specific reference to the Green Belt. Paragraph 151 of the NPPF states that:

“When located in the Green Belt, elements of many renewable energy projects will comprise inappropriate development. In such cases developers will need to demonstrate very special circumstances if projects are to proceed. Such very special circumstances may include the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy from renewable sources”.

The extent to which this will change will become clearer in time. However, a variety of energy schemes (including onshore wind) have been found acceptable within the Green Belt, demonstrating that VSC’s can exist.

In summary, a seemingly positive direction of travel, but the devil will be in the detail.

The technical consultation on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework will be launched by Christmas and concluded by the end of April 2023.

This note was put together by Chris Calvert, Executive Director in our Leeds office. For more information about the contents of this article, please contact us.