Eric Pickles has turned down applications to build 10 onshore wind farms in the past year, prompting accusations that the communities secretary is killing the industry’s growth in the UK.
Not only has Mr Pickles rejected 10 out of 12 planned wind farms, but four of these decisions went against recommendations from planning inspectors.
The news comes as the Conservative party draws up plans for a moratorium on onshore wind turbines to be included in its manifesto for next year’s general election.
Four years ago, the Tories campaigned on a pro-green manifesto. David Cameron even tried to install a wind turbine on his own home – although this fell foul of planning regulations.
Since then, Mr Cameron has been buffeted by the hostility of his backbenchers, who want to see an end to wind farms – many residents hate them because of their impact on views in the countryside.
He has changed direction on green energy, despite polls suggesting that a majority of the public are in favour of onshore wind farms.
In total, Mr Pickles has intervened in 39 planning disputes about wind turbines. Most of those decisions are still in the pipeline.
Last week, Lord Deben, the Tory chairman of the UK Committee on Climate Change, backed the party’s current stance by saying Britain had already granted planning permission for enough wind turbines to meet its 2020 climate change targets.
The latest victim of the more hostile political climate was a £23m wind farm proposed by RWE in North York Moors national park. Permission for it has just been refused by Mr Pickles, against the advice of a planning inspector in a public inquiry last November.
The minister said the planning appeal for the 10-turbine wind farm at East Heslerton was dismissed because of the “high magnitude of change and the moderate adverse effect on the highly valued Wolds landscape”.
Also cited as reasons for rejecting the appeal were “the sum of harm to the landscape . . . and the harm to public enjoyment of the special qualities of the national park”.
Mike Parker, head of onshore wind at RWE Innogy UK, asked why Mr Pickles thought he was better qualified than professional planning experts to make such decisions.
The lack of government support for wind energy risked creating an “investment and jobs hiatus” across the sector, he said. “Such actions will, in the end, kill any future development, investment and growth in what is one of the few growth industries within the UK”.
Mr Parker questioned Lord Deben’s assertion that there was “enough onshore wind” in the planning system. “This assumes that all projects with consent will be built,” he said.
Kris Hopkins, a communities minister, said all appeals were considered with “due process” on their individual merits.
“Inappropriately sited wind turbines can be a blot on the landscape, harming the local environment and damaging heritage for miles around,” he said. “We make no apologies for changing planning guidance to ensure that these issues are properly taken into account.”
Gemma Grimes, director of onshore renewables at RenewableUK, a trade body, criticised Mr Pickles for intervening “even more heavily” than before.
The Tories were “running scared of Ukip”, she said.
“By doing this, he’s undermining the fundamental principles of England’s impartial planning process. Frankly, his intervention looks political, and that’s unnerving to developers of all infrastructure projects.”
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