The Government is to take charge of reviewing appeals against wind farm applications following fears that tough new guidelines – intended to help residents oppose plans for turbines – are failing.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has written to MPs saying he will give “particular scrutiny” to applications involving renewables, to ensure new guidance is being followed correctly.
Mr Pickles is thought to be worried that the planning inspectorate is not enforcing new guidelines issued in July to ensure residents’ concerns about unsightly wind farms are being taken in to account.
When it introduced the new policy, the Government told planning authorities local people’s concerns should take precedence over the need for renewable energy.
The new announcement will see the Secretary of State exercising his power to determine the outcome of appeals against renewable energy applications over the next six months to make sure guidance is being properly followed.
In a written ministerial statement to MPs, he said: “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.” A source close to the department said because the guidelines were just guidance, they were perhaps not being followed as closely as they 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.”
The Government issued new guidelines in July to combat concerns planning authorities were over-riding opposition from residents simply because new wind farms were environmentally friendly.
The new guidelines state that in fact this is not a reason to grant the often controversial sites planning permission.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said Mr Pickles would review both developers’ and communities’ appeals against wind turbine applications.
Danny Mageean, co-founder of Cornwall Protect and chairman of the Stop Davidstow Wind Farm Alliance, said Mr Pickles was right to question whether the new guidelines were being followed.
“At the time [the guidance was announced] it was trumpeted as a veto for communities,” he said.
“We don’t expect vetos, but what we do expect is a level playing field and for information to be taken seriously.
“I think it’s right to question some of the decisions of the planning inspectorate; they are just overriding local evidence.
“I hope it would put some companies off [appealing for the sake of it]. The commercial gains from these projects are so great that I think a lot of companies are willing to take that risk of going to the inspectorate.
“I have seen some statements recently from the Conservatives to show that they are getting the message.”
Mr Pickles’ announcement will also see ministers deter-mine appeals against solar farms, but sources insist each case will be considered on its individual merits and there will not necessarily be more appeals upheld.
Merlin Hyman, chief executive of renewables body Regen South West, said it was working to ensure fewer schemes have to go through the appeals process in the first place.
He said: “Each application should be scrutinised carefully and decided on its own merits in line with the guidance, and the planning inspectorate has the expertise to make this decision.
“We are working to see less schemes having to go to appeal because we are working to get developers and communities to come to agreement about projects and ensure there are benefits to local communities.”
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