5 September, 2023
The Guardian, by Kiran Stacey and Helena Horton

Michael Gove has loosened restrictions on building onshore windfarms in England, meaning developments will no longer be quashed by one objection, but campaigners have said such schemes are still at a disadvantage.

The communities secretary announced on Tuesday that the government would make a series of changes to the planning system in order to lift a de facto ban on the structures that has been in place since 2015.

The move comes after a long campaign by Conservative MPs to overturn the 2015 rules, which have allowed local authorities to block new turbines based on just one complaint. Those rules have led to just 20 new onshore turbines being given planning permission in the last nine years.

Gove said: “To increase our energy security and develop a cleaner, greener economy, we are introducing new measures to allow local communities to back onshore wind power projects. This will only apply in areas where developments have community support, but these changes will help build on Britain’s enormous success as a global leader in offshore wind, helping us on our journey to net zero.”

Claire Coutinho, the new energy secretary, said: “Onshore wind also has a key role to play and these changes will help speed up the delivery of projects where local communities want them.”

The current rules allow local authorities to stop a developer building new wind turbines if there are any unresolved queries from local residents. They ban planning authorities from giving the go-ahead to a new development unless it has been included in the last local plan, a document that can cover several years’ worth of prospective building.

Under the new system, councils will be required to consider the views of the entire community rather than bowing to a single objection. They will be allowed to identify new onshore wind in other ways apart from a local plan, and the government plans to introduce an incentive scheme to make sure local residents see some of the economic benefit of new developments.

The measures are the result of weeks of negotiation between ministers and a group of prospective Tory rebels who had threatened to derail the energy bill that is being debated in the Commons. That group was led by Alok Sharma, the president of Cop26 in 2021, and included Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Onshore windfarms, which are one of the fastest and cheapest renewable energy sources to build, still face barriers that other infrastructure such as waste incinerators and even coalmines are not subject to, green experts said.

Sam Richards, Johnson’s former environment adviser, said: “Today’s change tips the balance back in favour of local people who back onshore wind in their area, and should end the perverse situation we currently have whereby a single objection could block a development even if the majority are in favour.”

Some argued that the changes did not go far enough. Ed Miliband, the shadow energy secretary, has promised Labour would remove all special planning requirements for onshore wind, allowing councils to treat them like any other piece of infrastructure.