The drive to build wind farms will no longer automatically trump protecting the landscape, and from today ministers will be able to step in on the side of residents.
In a major boost for anti-wind farm campaigners, Eric Pickles announced new measures to make sure their concerns about the visual and environmental impact must be taken into account.
For the next six months his Whitehall department will review many of the appeals – to decide whether angry residents opposing a wind farm should have their concerns upheld.
Mr Pickles said he is concerned that councils and planning inspectors are not enforcing new guidelines issued in July to ensure residents’ concerns about unsightly wind farms are taken in to account.
‘Some communities have genuine concerns that when it comes to developments such as wind turbines and solar farms, insufficient weight is being given to local environmental considerations like landscape, heritage and local amenity’, he said in a written statement.
‘The new guidance makes it clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the views of local communities will be listened to… I want to give particular scrutiny to planning appeals involving renewable energy developments so that I can consider the extent to which the new practice guidance is meeting the Government’s intentions’.
Around half of wind farm applications to councils are denied permission due to opposition from residents.
But, currently, many are then allowed on appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, which is acting under government planning rules which ask them to ‘support the transition to a low carbon future in a changing climate.’
Councils were ordered to look at this issue in July amid concerns that controversial wind and solar developments were going ahead because councils felt they needed to champion green energy. Under the new regime Mr Pickles department will take over many of these appeals instead.
A departmental source said the guidance issued in the summer had been intended to clarify that the need for green energy is not the sole reason to give the controversial sites planning permission but ‘because it was guidance, it was perhaps not being followed as closely as it should have been.’
The source added: ‘We are not going to be recovering all cases, but we are going to be keeping a really, really close eye on these appeals to make sure that the guidance is being properly followed and that the concerns of communities are being taken in to account.’
Mr Pickles said each case would still be considered on its individual merits and there would not necessarily be a lot more appeals upheld.
Chris Heaton-Harris, MP for Daventry, said it was ‘another step in the right direction on wind farm planning.’ Nadine Dorries, Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, said the government was ‘getting there’ on wind farms.
Wind farms are a running sore between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories in coalition. There are nearly 4,000 onshore wind turbines in Britain and the energy department, under Lib Dem Edward Davey, believe thousands more are needed to slash Britain’s carbon footprint.
But over a hundred Conservative backbenchers, as well as some cabinet ministers, are opposed to onshore wind farms, which they say ruin the countryside and do not help mitigate climate change.
Mr Pickles has been under pressure to help residents opposing wind farms, after councils were this summer banned from imposing minimum distances they could be built from homes.
A proposal was modelled on Denmark – which generates far more of its energy from wind than the UK – and has a legal separation distance of 1.25miles for large turbines.
But local government secretary said ‘buffer zones’, backed by residents, were not the measure of whether a development was acceptable. Earlier this year the High Court ruled against Milton Keynes Council, which had tried to impose a limit of three quarters of a mile between turbines and homes.
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