House of Commons Library

Planning for onshore wind

Published Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Onshore wind farm planning applications are determined by local authorities, except for small-scale domestic turbines which have permitted development rights. Recent changes to onshore wind planning policy made by the Government has aimed to give local communities more of a say in which developments are approved. This note sets out planning policy for onshore wind development, controls in place, rules on separation distances, possible community benefits and the recent changes.

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This note sets out issues to do with the planning process for onshore wind development. It applies to England only. Section 2.2 provides links to briefing papers which explain the planning processes for onshore wind in the other UK countries.

At a domestic level there some permitted development rights for small domestic wind turbines, where planning permission is not required at all, subject to certain limits and conditions. Beyond these limits planning permission will be required for onshore wind farms, which will be determined by the relevant local planning authority. Until recently wind farms which had an output of over 50MW were classed as nationally significant infrastructure projects to be consented by the Secretary of State. The Energy Act 2016 and regulations made under it returned the decision making process for these wind farms back to local planning authorities.

Planning policy for onshore wind is contained in a number of documents, principally the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework, the National Policy Statement for Renewable Energy Infrastructure and online Planning practice guidance for renewable and low carbon energy. Local authorities will have policies on onshore wind development in any up-to-date local plan for a particular area. While there are no nationally-set minimum separation distances between wind turbines and housing in England, one council has successfully set guidelines for a minimum distance for its area in the Allerdale Borough Council Local Plan.

The former Government temporarily expanded the planning appeals recovery criteria to allow the Secretary of State to take the final decision on onshore wind appeals. This expired in April 2015 and the current Government has not renewed it.

In its online Planning Practice Guidance the former Government’s aim was to make clear that the need for renewable energy did not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities. Compulsory pre-application engagement exists for “more significant onshore wind” which is for development involving more than two turbines or any turbine exceeding 15 metres height.

The Conservative Party 2015 Manifesto pledged to give “local people” a “final say” on windfarm applications. In a written ministerial statement on 18 June 2015 the Government announced that when determining planning applications for wind energy development local planning authorities should only grant planning permission if:

  • the development site is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in a local or neighbourhood plan; and
  • following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been fully addressed and therefore the proposal has their backing.

The Government’s publication Community benefits from onshore wind developments: Best practice guidance for England sets out examples of possible community benefits available to communities which host onshore wind projects.

Some examples of reasons for acceptance and rejection of wind farms are set out in this note. Statistics on this are available from the Government’s Renewable Energy Planning Database and the Renewables UK, UK Wind Energy Database (UKWED).

Commons Briefing papers SN04370

Author: Louise Smith

Topics: Planning, Renewable energy

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