Councils must not impose blanket bans on wind farms being built near houses, ministers have ruled, weeks after promising to stop the spread of unwanted turbines across the country.
Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, promised to “give local communities a greater say” on where wind farms are built, but new guidance from his department warns councils not to create “inflexible” turbine-free zones.
The planning document, released after Parliament broke up for the summer, says the distance of a wind farm from housing does not “necessarily determine whether the impact of a proposal is unacceptable”.
“Local planning authorities should not rule out otherwise acceptable renewable energy developments through inflexible rules on buffer zones,” it says.
At least eight councils are trying to restrict large turbines being built up to 1.2 miles from housing.
The guidance appears at odds with comments made in January by Nick Boles, the planning minister, when he told his local newspaper: “It is perfectly reasonable and right for . . . district councils to draw up policies that will guide future decisions about the siting of wind turbines so that we protect our precious landscape and listen to local people’s concerns.
“Such policies might include minimum separation distances between centres of population and new turbines.”
Last month, leading Conservatives promised that the guidance would effectively end the spread of turbines, which have been blamed for blighting landscapes. A senior Tory said at the time: “The Prime Minister strongly feels that this is a real local issue and if people don’t want to have wind farms they don’t have to have them.”
The guidance makes it clear that the need for green energy “does not automatically override” environmental protections and local concerns. It also orders officials to take into account topography, the effect on “views” and historic sites and assess the “cumulative impact of wind turbines” amid fears that some areas are being overwhelmed by applications.
However, Whitehall sources said the guidelines were fairly similar to previous ones and would not amount to a community veto on wind farms.
Andrew Geary, the Conservative leader of Milton Keynes council, said the council would have to reconsider its efforts to ban wind turbines taller than 125 metres near residential areas.
He said the environmental considerations sounded “encouraging” but the decision to stop councils specifying a minimum distance between turbines and homes was “more than a little disappointing”.
Martin Hill, the Conservative leader of Lincolnshire council, also welcomed the “positive aspects” to the guidance, but said the ruling against “separation distances” was “regrettable”. He said: “It’s very reasonable to say 130-metre high industrial structures should not be within a certain distance of houses.”
Tory MPs also expressed their frustration at the ruling against buffer zones.
Peter Luff, MP for Mid Worcestershire, who last year tried to bring in laws stopping wind farms being built less than 2km from housing, said each area should be free to set minimum distances between dwellings and turbines. He said councils were best placed to know where wind farms would have a “devastating impact on a community”.
Glyn Davies, MP for Montgomeryshire, also said any ruling against “buffer zones” was a “backward step”. He said: “The Government should not make it more difficult for people trying to stop wind turbines destroying their lives.”
The renewable energy industry welcomed the guidance. Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of RenewableUK, said the Government agreed with the industry view that each site “needs to be looked at on its own merits, not through blanket arbitrary criteria”.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change last night suggested the guidance would make little difference. “Onshore wind planning applications will only be accepted where the impacts are, or can be made, acceptable. This guidance will help to ensure that proper weight is given to factors such as heritage sites and visual impact.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government said the guidance “represents a significant increase in protection for England’s heritage and landscape, ensuring that the local environment and local amenity is given the protection it deserves.”
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