Today, the government has issued a Written Ministerial Statement on onshore wind energy and updated the National Planning Policy Framework to reflect it.
After seeking consultation on the matter back in December 2022 (see Chris Calvert’s reflections on why this was a missed opportunity for boosting onshore wind development) the government’s statement today appears, disappointingly, to reflect its original proposals back in December of last year and doesn’t represent any seismic shift in government policy on the matter.
The government’s key proposal, badged as a way to ‘help supportive communities take forward onshore wind projects’, but in reality is a regurgitation of the political compromise shown in December. These ‘new changes’ will ultimately require any community that is supportive of onshore wind to come together and create a neighbourhood development order (see today’s updated NPPF at page 46, footnote 53a). Footnote 54 is also updated, bringing in the use of supplementary planning documents to identify an area suitable for wind energy development; and that planning impacts identified by the local community now ‘only’ need to have been ‘satisfactorily’ (previously ‘fully)’ addressed and that the proposal has ‘community support’ (previously ‘backing’).
The WMS states that onshore wind projects supported by local people will be approved more quickly in England. This includes a broadening of the ways that suitable locations can be identified, including by communities, and speeding up the process of allocating sites by giving alternatives to the local plan process (including Local Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders). The intention is to allow whole communities to engage and not just a small number of objectors. The government has confirmed that ‘councils should consider the views of the whole community, rather than a small minority, when considering a planning application. This includes addressing the planning impact of onshore wind projects as identified by local communities.’
This sounds encouraging but, in reality, local development orders add another layer of bureaucracy. Furthermore, NPPF footnote 53a still makes reference that proposals must have ‘community support’, an added hoop that onshore wind farms must jump through and not something that any other type of development proposal is required to secure. Embarking on any development proposal requires a degree of certainty, and today’s changes do nothing to reduce that uncertainty.
Equally, local communities in favour of a new onshore wind farm would need to embark on quite a sophisticated task of preparing the documentation to support a wind farm.
All things considered, today’s latest changes are highly unlikely to speed up the process of seeing more onshore wind farms delivered and the future prospects of boosting the number of onshore wind farms remains an especially unclear outlook.