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Wind farm rules pledge after Berwick MP raises concerns

Wind farms will not be automatically approved under Government changes to the planning system, a minister has said.

Communities and Local Government Minister Bob Neill gave the pledge after Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith raised concerns during a Parliamentary debate on the impact of the draft national planning policy framework on Northumberland.

The Berwick MP highlighted concerns in particular about the presumption of sustainable development and its application to wind farms in the proposed overhaul of planning rules.

He said: “Large parts of my constituency – which is characterised by beautiful countryside and stunning views – have been designated as suitable for onshore wind generation. Some parts such as the National Park itself, although not the adjoining areas, have been excluded.

“The result is an avalanche of applications for the rest of the area, some of them encircling communities like Wingates, a hilltop village near Rothbury.”

In such a highly-charged environment, Sir Alan said it was vital to know what new planning guidance would mean.

“It could be argued that a wind farm or a wind turbine is, by definition, a sustainable development, because it produces sustainable energy without carbon or non-renewable resources.

“If you combine that with existing designations of large areas as suitable for wind farms, does that mean that the ‘presumption in favour’ just automatically comes into play?” said the Berwick MP.

Sir Alan warned the whole planning process would “break down” if that was the case, with the local planning authority left powerless to make sensible decisions.

Communities and Local Government Minister Bob Neill said the presumption could be rebutted and the best way to do that was to develop a local plan, which residents could shape. He added the Government was looking at transitional arrangements for councils that did not have complete up-to-date plans after Sir Alan said it was going to take Northumberland County Council some time to achieve that having taken over responsibilities from six district authorities.

Mr Neill insisted safeguarding the local environment was very important and reflected in the Government’s proposals.

On wind farms, he said: “I appreciate that proposals for wind farms can be controversial.

“But of course onshore wind, along with other renewables, does have an important contribution to make to our energy mix, and of course, in reducing the pressure on consumer bills.

“But that’s not any excuse and shouldn’t be an excuse for building wind farms in the wrong place, and the draft framework does not give a green light to all development proposals.”