Almost half of the wind farms planned for the UK countryside are rejected before they can get off the drawing board, new figures show.
The failure of developers to win support for wind projects is blamed on a hardening of attitudes within local authorities towards them, and the increasing influence of “nimbies” and anti-wind campaigners.
Figures obtained from the Department of Energy and Climate Change under freedom of information legislation reveal that in just five years the rejection rate for wind farm planning applications has risen from 29 per cent in 2005 to 48 per cent in 2010 in England and Wales. For other major developments, such as roads and supermarkets, 70 per cent are approved.
Developers are increasingly frustrated at what they see as local issues being given priority over national needs and are worried that the Localism Bill championed by Eric Pickles, the Local Government and Communities Secretary, will worsen the situation by handing communities greater rights to reject development schemes.
Jacqueline Harris, of the legal firm McGrigors, which obtained the latest figures, said there were growing concerns that developers were being denied a fair hearing, with issues such as the visual impact of wind turbines being given special precedence even when only a few houses are in sight of them. “There is little willingness to consider the benefits of renewable energy generation in context – the national interest is being overridden by local concerns,” she said.
Nick Medic, of RenewableUK, the industry’s trade association, said the figures raised important questions about how the Government’s green growth agenda could be achieved. He added: “We often find there is a vociferous minority driving the planning process. That can’t be right.”
High refusal rates have raised concerns about the UK’s ability to meet its 2020 renewable energy and greenhouse gas targets, which require a third of electricity to be from renewable sources.
A study last year estimated that nimby (“not in my back yard”) and anti-wind campaigners will cost local communities £1.3bn in lost investment.
The rise in planning rejections comes despite a government survey showing that from 2006 to 2009 the proportion of people saying they would be unhappy living within three miles of a wind farm had fallen from 24 to 21 per cent.
Greg Clark, the Minister for Decentralisation, said: “We’re putting reforms in place that will deliver an efficient planning system that still supports sustainable growth and green energy developments, but rightly gives communities a say in the planning of their local area.”
* A plan by RWE npower Renewables to build 18 125-metre-high turbines at Horkstow, North Lincolnshire, was thrown out in December after a fierce local campaign. Planning officers had recommended approval of the scheme. Campaigners declared their victory “a good day for the rural community”. A revised plan has now been submitted.
* Community Windpower wanted 20 126-metre-tall turbines near Camelford, North Cornwall, but the plan was rejected in July 2010 after campaigners raised concerns about the effect on birds and described it as a desecration of the landscape. A revised application has now been submitted.