Winds of change

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Tim Byrne
UK Planning, EMEA

The new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, recently opened the world’s biggest offshore windfarm in the Irish sea near Walney in Cumbria. Research by Renewable UK shows 2012 is set to be the year of the turbine with 303 more turbines sprouting from the sea; doubling in one year the amount of electricity generated offshore. Furthermore some 478 turbines will be completed onshore, an increase of more than 70% upon last year. Currently there are more than 3,589 turbines in 326 farms built inBritain providing some 6GW of electricity. There are more than 3,000 turbines with planning consent and more than 2,000 turbines in the planning process.

Led by our Edinburgh and Glasgow offices, the Jones Lang LaSalle Planning team undertakes a substantial amount of work for onshore wind developments and renewable energy projects.  The Government reports that the average time in the planning system for wind farms is approximately 29 months with a refusal ratio of 47% for 2011. However, our clients report the average time taken in the planning system in reality is closer to 41 months.

A refusal by local planning authorities often necessitates a lengthy appeal process where the Planning Inspectorate plays arbiter between “regional and national targets” for renewable energy and the visual/aesthetic impacts the turbines would have on local residents.

The odds however may be starting to tip in favor of the locals.  Earlier this month a total of 101 Tory MPs wrote to the Prime Minister demanding that planning laws are tightened up so local people have a better chance of stopping new wind farms being developed and protecting the countryside.

The Localism Act which was given Royal Assent on 15 November 2011 seeks to reform the planning system to make it increasingly democratic and effective by giving more power to local people. The Act is also abolishing Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs), which includes regional targets for renewable energy. However, national targets for renewable electricity generation will remain and the evidence base which informed RSS targets will remain a material consideration.  Furthermore the draft National Planning Policy Framework July 2011, which will replace National Policy Statements, contains greatly simplified guidance on renewable energy and it is expected to be issued in Final form by April 2012.

Local communities tend to be the ones most vehemently opposed to wind farms, and a planning system with policy making devolved towards local communities could act to further delay and frustrate wind farm developments.

Are the winds of change starting to blow against onshore wind energy projects just as its turbines are getting up to speed?


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