Communities will have a much greater say over wind turbine proposals and siting when early consultation between local people and developers becomes compulsory next month.
Many communities feel forced to consider wind farm and turbine plans they have had no part in shaping, and want early and open discussions with developers to influence proposals and to improve the outcome for their area.
Planning works best when people have the opportunity to influence decisions that affect their lives and when developers hear concerns early on, but many people feel cut out of the initial process of steering turbine development.
New measures, to be laid before Parliament shortly, will provide that developers seeking planning permission for onshore wind development involving more than 2 turbines or any turbine exceeding 15 metres height will need to consult the local community before submitting a formal planning application.
When a proposal meets the criteria, the developer will need to consult to ensure communities views about siting and other relevant planning issues can be heard first. The measure will come into force before the end of the year.
Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, MP (whose Ministerial portfolio includes local government in England) said: “We are making sure local people have a crystal clear voice in airing their opinions on wind turbines very early on.
“From day 1 communities should be centre stage in crafting plans that affect their lives instead of having them forced upon them.
“Ensuring communities have a greater say at an early stage allows developers to consider much earlier whether to pursue a proposal and what changes they should consider before putting forward formal plans. Our changes allow people’s views and other impacts to be taken into consideration much earlier.”
Details of the measures will be set out in the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure and Section 62A Applications (England) (Amendment) Order 2013.
The measures respond to important outcomes from the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s onshore wind call for evidence, that showed people wanted open and early dialogue with developers and highlighted the benefits of good quality pre-application discussion.
The new practice guidelines make clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override local environmental and heritage protections and the concerns of local communities.
UK Energy Minister, Michael Fallon, added: “These new rules will help ensure that in future people have a say earlier on in the process over where onshore turbines are sited.
“Wind is an important part of the UK’s energy mix, and both government and industry agree that these proposals will ensure that new turbines are appropriately sited.
“The measures build on existing industry best practice that already takes place for most commercial scale applications, where early engagement is required, and complement the need for good local plan making.”
Maf Smith, Deputy Chief Executive, Renewable-UK, said: “We welcome the publication of the Government’s planning guidance, as it shows the importance of developers working closely with communities and engaging early when onshore wind farms are proposed.
“This latest condition is part of the process of pre-consultation, which the industry has signed up to, and is yet another sign of how onshore wind developers are working with communities to ensure that the views of local people are placed right at the heart of wind developments.
“The industry takes the process of public consultation very seriously and this openness is one of the reasons why onshore wind enjoys such high support among communities up and down the country.”
Scottish Government Policy is to generate the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s gross annual electricity consumption , the equivalent of 11% of Scotland’s heat demand met from renewable sources and 500 MW of community and locally-owned renewable energy, all by 2020.
A Scots Government spokesman said: “The planning system’s focus is on providing guidance on the locations where particular renewables are most likely to be appropriate as well as shaping the criteria to be taken into account in the determination of applications.”