The Government’s latest planning policy has failed to deliver a raft of promised powers to help communities block unacceptable wind and solar farms, campaigners say.
The Conservatives last month indicated they would hand local people the power to veto schemes, forcing renewable energy companies to win over locals before permission could be granted.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles had told local communities they would be given “a greater say” on where wind farms are built, but instead the guidance from his department has ruled out the creation of buffer zones around schemes.
The new policy document says the distance of a wind farm from housing does not “necessarily determine whether the impact of a proposal is unacceptable” and warns councils not to create “inflexible” turbine-free zones.
Bob Barfoot, north Devon chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said the 14-page guidance was “a step forward, but only a very small one”.
Mr Barfoot, a veteran campaigner and policy expert with vast experience of planning, including preparing for judicial reviews, said the guide published this week “doesn’t change anything”.
“When we read the ministerial statements about what was going to happen everyone was jumping for joy,” he added.
“But all this does is restate what was already in place in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
“It says the views of local people should be listened to and heard but nowhere does it say they should be taken note of or become a material consideration.”
The Government scrapped around 1,000 pages of planning policy in favour of the 50 pages which make up its controversial NPPF, decried as a “developers’ charter” by many landscape campaigners.
This new guide runs alongside this and replaces the former companion guide PPS22.
Announcing the change, the Department for Communities and Local Government said it “confirms that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override local environmental and heritage protections and the concerns of local communities”.
And despite the muted reception among campaigners, there was some evidence that planners were adopting a tougher line on planned projects, in Devon at least.
In a decision handed down this week, an appeal by developers Clearwinds against a decision to refuse permission for a 260ft wind turbine at Waytown Farm, Inwardleigh was dismissed.
Planning inspector Neil Pope cites the ministerial statement in June, which stated that meeting energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location.
And, balancing this with other factors, he concluded that the benefits of the scheme – near Okehampton and less than three miles from Dartmoor – “do not outweigh the totality of the harm”.
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