Planning permission for onshore wind farms to be relaxed, says government

Aerial view of a wind farm.
Onshore wind farms could help reduce household electricity bills. Credit: PA

Measures to relax planning permission for onshore wind farms in England have been approved by the government.

The changes mean communities can apply to their local authority to have turbines built, though the final decision will still be taken by elected councillors.

Councils will also have to take into account the view of communities as a whole and not just a small minority in opposition.

ITV News had reported earlier on Tuesday that Rishi Sunak was planning to revoke a ban on onshore wind projects to appease a backbench Tory rebellion.

Measures announced by the government include broadening 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.

Planning policy will be changed to make clear onshore wind developments can be identified in several ways rather than through local plans, including Local Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders - both are typically used to build new community centres, shops or playgrounds.

Those communities that choose to host turbines will benefit from cheaper electricity, the government added.

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary Michael Gove said the measures will help the drive to net zero, with wind farms only being built where there is local support.

Michael Gove said the measures will help the drive to net zero. Credit: PA

"To increase our energy security and develop a cleaner, greener economy, we are introducing new measures to allow local communities to back onshore wind power projects," Mr Gove said.

"This will only apply in areas where developments have community support, but these changes will help build on Britain's enormous success as a global leader in offshore wind, helping us on our journey to net zero."

But campaigners have described the announcement as "feeble tweaks" that "go nowhere near close enough" to unblocking the restrictions introduced during David Cameron's government which have led to very few onshore turbines being built since.

Greenpeace UK's policy director, Doug Parr said: "Developers will continue to face uncertainty over planning process and be beholden to quixotic decisions by local councils.

"Who will put their money into developing projects under those circumstances?"

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James Robottom, head of onshore wind at RenewableUK, the industry trade association, said: "The proposed changes don't go far enough.

"We will still face a planning system stacked against onshore wind that treats it differently to every other energy source or infrastructure project.

"A lot will be open to interpretation and there are still hurdles to navigate which remain in place.

"There has been a slight softening at the edges but nothing more."

Renewable energy made up 42% of the UK's electricity generation in 2022, though much of this was from turbines offshore.

Energy experts say onshore wind must be scaled up rapidly if the UK is to decarbonise fast enough to meet its net zero goals.

Conservative MP Chris Skidmore has said repeatedly that the UK needs onshore wind for its decarbonisation efforts.

He welcomed moves to relax the planning rules but said he wants to see legislative change, telling BBC Radio 4's World At One programme: "What we need to see now is the detail.

"It is not good enough really to have a simple statement saying they are going to do it, because that is what happened last year and nothing came forward."

"We need to see the legislative changes in the National Planning Policy Framework," he added, in order to "have confidence and certainty".

Chris Skidmore said he wants to see legislative change. Credit: PA

On X, formerly known as Twitter, shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband wrote: "The Conservatives have bottled it AGAIN on onshore wind.

"It still remains easier to build an incinerator or a landfill site than onshore wind.

"The planning system remains stacked against onshore wind. This will mean higher bills and energy insecurity for Britain."

The changes come after former Cop26 president Alok Sharma proposed an amendment to the Energy Bill that would end the effective ban on new onshore wind farms while requiring the government show developers how local communities support their plans and how wind farms can provide financial benefits.

However, Mr Sharma withdrew the amendment before a vote on Tuesday afternoon, citing the ministerial statement from Mr Gove.

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