There has been wide spread publicity about the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) supporting onshore wind development. However, Michael Gove’s ministerial statement describes the changes as “minor” in nature, reflecting consultation responses and providing clarity on how the policy should be applied in practice. We consider whether the “minor” changes have lifted the ban on onshore wind.
Under the 2021 NPPF, planning applications for one or more new onshore turbines would not be “considered acceptable” unless:
This effectively prevented planning officers from granting planning permission, for any new onshore windfarm developments where a location wasn’t identified in the local plan or there were local objections.
The revised NPPF makes tweaks to the policy around renewable energy developments, but it also lacks clarity.
Local Development Orders, Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders
New developments consisting of one or more turbines may be consented through Local Development Orders, Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders. The Government hopes this will provide “more agile and targeted routes” for allocating sites. However, these types of orders do not negate the requirement for public consultation. In the case of Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders, an examination process needs to be followed. Furthermore, draft Local Development Orders will need to demonstrate “planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been appropriately addressed and the proposal has community support”. The Government has indicated that it will publish further guidance on addressing planning impacts, but until the guidance published it appears planning officers must rely on their professional judgement.
Identifying new sites for onshore wind
The NPPF has been amended to allow suitable areas for new onshore wind to be identified in supplementary planning documents, as well as the development plan. Identifying sites in supplementary plan documents is a quicker process than adopting a local development plan. However, it still relies on local planning authorities having the resources to produce supplementary planning documents. In addition to this, the requirement for planning applications for new onshore windfarms to have “fully addressed” planning impacts identified by the affected local community has been changed to “appropriately addressed”. As discussed above, there is no currently guidance on what “appropriately” means and therefore a planning officer’s assessment of whether something has been “appropriately assessed” could be open to legal challenge.
Repowering and life extensions of existing onshore windfarms
A new insertion provides that, in the case of planning applications for the repowering and life extension of existing renewable sites, local planning authorities should “give significant weight to the benefits of utilising an established site and approve the proposal if its impacts are or can be made acceptable”. This provides planning officers with policy support for granting planning permissions for repowering or extending the life of onshore windfarms. However, in the absence of guidance on making impacts acceptable, it is likely that applicants will need to present evidence on impacts, and mitigation, that is sufficiently robust. This is to rebut objections from communities and give sufficient comfort to planning officers.
There is a new insertion requiring local plans to include a strategy to “maximise the potential future re-powering and life extension” and ensure “adverse impacts are addressed appropriately”. Again, there is no clarity on what is meant by “appropriately addressed”. However, the revised NPPF does state that the amendments will apply only to draft local plans that have not reached Regulation 19 pre-submission consultation stage, or that reach that stage within three months of the publication of the revised NPPF. This provides some assistance to local planning authorities preparing draft local plans.
The ban on new onshore windfarms arose from the requirement for sites to be identified in the local plan and the need for impacts to be “fully addressed” and communities to support proposals. The Government has attempted to introduce some flexibility for new onshore windfarms, both in terms of site allocation and only requiring impacts to be “appropriately addressed”, rather than “fully addressed”. However, the routes to site allocation will still require public consultation and a statutory process to be followed.
Furthermore, there is no clarity on what is meant by impacts being “appropriately addressed”, and therefore it would seem that the ban has been eased, but not lifted. This leaves both local planning authorities and developers with a lack of certainty about when planning permission can be granted for new onshore windfarms.
If you have any queries, or would like any further information about onshore wind please contact the public sector team at Ashfords.