The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) today issued planning guidance to help local authorities weigh up the need for renewable energy projects against other environmental concerns.
The guidance underlines that the national need for renewable energy “does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities”.
Guidance to decode the National Planning Policy Framework
The report is designed to help officials understand the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which was published last year. This document promotes the development of renewable energy projects in a bid to reach a target of 15% of the UK’s energy created by renewable sources by 2020.
Communities minister Baroness Hanham commented that communities have “genuine concerns” that planning officers are failing to put enough emphasis on local environmental considerations. She singled out preserving landscape, heritage sites and local amenities as aspects that should get more of a look-in when planning applications for wind turbines or solar arrays are considered.
She added: “Our new planning practice guidance will help decisions on green energy get the environmental balance right in line with the framework.
“Meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location.”
Providing ‘greater policy certainty’
Trade association RenewableUK said the new document would provide greater policy certainty for developers and also block proposed “buffer zones” around properties.
Matt Smith, the organisation’s deputy chief executive, noted that the guidance highlights the importance of balancing a number of different factors and environmental concerns when planning a new development.
He said: “Following a long debate about onshore wind costs and benefits, we trust that this period of uncertainty for the industry is now at an end, and that we will see planning policy and guidance producing robust, objective planning decisions.”
However, Friends of the Earth has attacked the move, saying the government is “rigging the planning system against onshore wind.”
The body’s planning campaigner Naomi Luhde-Thompson said: “It’s staggering that the minister has refused to insist on councils playing their part in developing renewable energy goals – unless everyone takes urgent action, the UK will fail to meet its targets for slashing emissions.”
The end of top-down regional strategies
Communities and Local Government secretary Eric Pickles said that previously, planning decisions on onshore wind did not always reflect a locally-led planning system.
“Much of this stems from planning changes made by the last Administration, which is why we introduced the National Planning Policy Framework and abolished the last Government’s top-down Regional Strategies through the Localism Act,” he added.
New statistics have indicated that offshore wind farms could be the EU’s best chance of avoiding an energy crisis. According to a report published by the European Wind Energy Association, offshore wind farms in the deep waters of the North Sea could power the EU four times over.