In this guest blog, my colleague Olivia Heininger looks at the UK Government's consultation on proposed onshore wind policy changes in England.
As part of a wider consultation on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPF”), the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities is consulting on policy changes which would introduce greater flexibility for local planning authorities in England to consent onshore wind farms.
As proposed this move has the potential to significantly alter the current policy position, which effectively puts a moratorium on onshore wind development in England, and open the door to new onshore wind development. Further, there is consultation on changes to allow for repowering of existing wind farms provided “the impacts of any development proposal are or can be made acceptable in planning terms”.
The precise detail of the changes around repowering are as yet unclear from the consultation but the emphasis is on reducing environmental and community impacts associated with developing new sites by making the most of existing sites through repowering. The highlight is, however, the changes around new onshore wind development.
Although the consultation indicates that the 2015 NPPF drafting is somewhat dated given the country is “in the midst of an energy crisis”, there remains a focus on taking a “localist approach” to onshore wind development. The consultation makes clear that these changes to the NPPF are focussed on giving local planning authorities the opportunity to respond to local views around onshore wind. It further notes that taller, more visible onshore turbines lead to a greater range of opinions about their development and the new policy will still require proposals to “satisfactorily address” planning impacts identified by the local community and have “demonstrable local support for the scheme”. It appears that the requirement for an onshore wind development to be secured within a local plan will be removed with reliance placed on the other means by which local planning authorities can demonstrate support for onshore wind development in particular areas.
Another point which stands out is the emphasis placed on developers to engage with local communities earlier and go further in that engagement, in particular through the use of digital and online methods which reflects the wider trend for planning to become a digitised and interactive sector. This will be an interesting element to key an eye on as well as the further changes to the Planning Practice Guidance to provide the detail of how developers can “[demonstrate] that the planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been satisfactorily addressed and the proposal has community support”. Additionally, further consultation will be carried out on how local partnerships can be established where supportive local communities can “host” onshore wind development in exchange for community benefits which was first set out in the British Energy Security Strategy.
Overall, this consultation reflects what the Government has so far been indicating in relation to onshore wind but there is much for industry and other interested parties to consider. The consultation is open until the 2 March 2023.