Stop the government wrapping wind turbines in red tape

Together, 1010ers have spent the last few months fighting the changes to financial backing that has left onshore wind frozen out of our energy mix. But unfair financial treatment is not the only barrier in the way of onshore wind.

It’s also been wrapped up in planning red tape.

Now, we know planning might not be everyone's bag, but it’s incredibly important to ensure we can build that low carbon world we all want and need. So stick with us.

The backstory

Back in 2015 the government announced financial cuts to onshore wind. Alongside that, they also introduced new planning rules in the form of a written ministerial statement. This statement claimed to ‘give local people the final say over wind farms’.

Sounds great - sadly, that’s not how it’s panned out.

In practice, the government has imposed a double lock on onshore wind in the planning system in England and Wales.

First, local authorities are now required to designate areas for wind development in advance of receiving any planning applications. Without this, no planning applications can be made to install turbines in the first place. They will simply fail.

Second, even if an area is designated and an onshore wind application is made, the local authority must ensure that ‘planning impacts identified by affected local communities [have been addressed] and [the application] therefore has their backing’.

You wouldn’t be alone in thinking one or both of these sounds reasonable. But in reality, both are very difficult for local authorities to actually implement and have all but frozen the onshore pipeline in time.

Reality bites

Let’s start with choosing suitable areas. This involves finding suitable sites for onshore wind and then writing them into local plans (a big plan outlining the vision for an area - every local authority has one). This requires a host of specialist and time intensive work. As local authorities have no targets for renewable energy generation in their areas - and are faced with shrinking budgets and fewer staff - this often just isn’t a priority for them. In a recent survey completed by 92 local authorities, the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) found that just under half are not even planning to designate areas for wind, with only a quarter in the process of actually doing so.

Secondly, there is the question of what counts as ‘community backing’. In the same survey, CSE found that less than a third of local authorities were ‘confident’ in how this condition could be realistically met (the government provides no criteria), while over half were either ‘unsure’ or ‘not confident’. Is a single remaining objection sufficient to overrule a majority in support? No-one really knows. But what we do know is that the effect of this uncertainty is to make the risk of applying for onshore projects just too high.

So there’s the double lock: first, the lack of designated sites for wind. Second, even where sites are available, a vague requirement for public backing that has no specified criteria. Neither of these conditions apply to any other type of application within the planning system. 

So much for the former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change declaring “that where local communities want more onshore wind, that should be supported”.

Take action

Onshore wind offers many smaller groups a chance to take a stake in the low carbon transition. Farmers can use it to secure a stable income stream, businesses can cut their energy costs and community groups can unite to harness their local resource. Onshore wind could (and should!) be for everyone.

We were never going to stand for this - and now we’ve got a chance to make our voice heard. The government is proposing to turn the written ministerial statement of summer 2015 (that started all this in the first place!) into law - and they’ve opened a consultation to gather public views. We, along with other groups, will be submitting a response to make sure the government can’t ignore the impacts of their decision - and to suggest how they can fix this mess.

We’re calling for more support for local authorities to designate areas for wind, clarification of the local community 'backing' and an exemption for smaller wind projects, so farmers, businesses and communities can build their own turbines, even if they’re outside a designated area for wind.

Onshore wind offers a real opportunity for businesses, farmers and communities to cut their energy costs and become part of the climate solution.

We can’t let onshore wind stay wrapped up in red tape: please join us and add your name to our consultation response.

You can see our consultation response in full here.

Update: The consultation is now closed. Nearly 6000 of you called on the government to stop blocking onshore wind. 

Banner photo: Andy Aitchison