995: Government further skews the onshore wind playing field and other news
This week’s entry covers a new consultation on onshore wind and miscellaneous infrastructure planning-related news.
On 11 May 2023, the government started a consultation on ‘Developing Local Partnerships for Onshore Wind in England’. The consultation closes on 7 July 2023, and the condoc can be found here.
Six questions are asked about ‘engaging the local community’ and five about ‘community benefits’. The proposal on the first issue is to put currently separate guidance on engagement into Planning Practice Guidance, ie, if it changes anything at all, it merely puts more of a burden on developers to demonstrate proper community engagement.
On community benefit, it stresses that there is no link between obtaining planning permission and offering community benefit, but signed-up developers commit to putting at least £5000 per MW per year into a community fund. The consultation seeks to allow other ways of providing the community benefit such as electricity bill discounts. Seems fair enough, but how independent really is this, to the decision on planning?
In contrast, the National Infrastructure Commission not only recommended that onshore wind be brought back into the DCO regime but also that the government develop community benefits rather than developers, so there is no suggestion of buying planning permission, but the government is not taking up either of those recommendations.
It is now time for me to go off on one. The refusal to put onshore wind back into the DCO regime is rather tenuously justified in the consultation document as follows:
‘the most recent BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker shows that 79% of people support the use of onshore wind, with only 4% who oppose it. However, the survey also shows that this changes when asked about onshore wind in the local area. The most recent tracker showed that 43% would be happy for an onshore wind farm to be built in their local area, with 12% unhappy and 32% either unsure or neutral.’
If you look at the details in the tracker (Figure 5.2), only 5% of people would be ‘very unhappy’ with onshore wind in their area. I wish that any of the infrastructure projects (in the DCO regime) I have worked on had such a low level of opposition, and yet this is the justification for keeping onshore wind out of the DCO regime.
I therefore ask, why on earth does the government continue an effective ban on onshore wind when it is actually the cheapest form of renewable energy, urgently, nay critically, needed, and only one in 20 people are very unhappy about it in their area? It just defies common sense. This consultation is a figleaf for appearing to do something to encourage onshore wind without really doing so, and possibly making it even more onerous.
For the record, the government needs to:
- put onshore wind of over 50MW back into the Planning Act 2008 regime;
- remove onshore wind from the pre-application consultation duty in Section 61W of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (it is the only development to which that section applies); and
- remove footnote 54 from the National Planning Policy Framework altogether and reverse the proposal to replace this with new footnotes 62 and 63.
Incidentally, I was amused to see that the government press release has RenewableUK saying ‘this consultation provides an opportunity to increase the amount of cheap clean power we can generate for consumers’, although the government document clearly doesn’t include a quote from the same person referenced in the Times that ‘sticking onshore wind in slightly easier limbo is not going to encourage people to invest and build out’.
On 9 May 2023 an energy minister postponed the decision on the Net Zero Teesside DCO application from 10 May to 14 September 2023. The statement can be found here. The reason given is the latest anodyne formulation: ‘to seek further information from Interested Parties and to ensure there is sufficient time to allow for consideration of this information’. At the time of writing, no requests for further information had been issued. This means the next DCO decision will not be until 6 July 2023, for the already twice-delayed Boston Alternative Energy Project. Four decisions were taken on time between November 2022 and January 2023, but there hasn’t been an on-time one since then.
Some court news relating to town and country planning is of wider interest. The discharge of a planning condition in West Oxfordshire requiring a five metre buffer zone around some ancient woodland was quashed because the detailed plans did not in fact contain a five metre buffer zone everywhere; it was closer at three points. Relying on Natural England’s advice was also irrational because, at the time it gave the advice, NE only knew about one of the encroachments. The full judgment is here.
In a recent planning appeal decision in Doncaster, there was a dispute about whether biodiversity net gain land should form part of a s106 agreement and whether the cost of providing BNG affected the viability of the project. The inspector concluded that it was properly the subject of a s106 agreement and, at a cost of £750,000, was only about 2% of the development value, so it did not undermine viability. And that’s while BNG is still policy rather than law. The decision can be found here.
Planning Act Blog Party!
We are excited to be celebrating our 1000th Planning Act blog next month, and to mark this milestone, we would like to invite you to a party, including the return of our annual quiz.
Drinks, nibbles, and fun will be provided. The event will take place on 15 June 2023 from 6.00pm until 9.30pm.
Join forces and submit your team of three to five players; we want to see creative team names for a fun-filled evening of thought-provoking questions, activities, yummy food, and drinks, as well as top prizes! If you would like to attend but would need to join a combined, randomly selected team, then please let us know.
To RSVP, please click here to email our events team with your chosen team name and list of team members by Thursday 1 June 2023.
We hope to see you there!