The new Conservative Government has used the State Opening of Parliament to confirm planned amendments to the planning regime for onshore wind farms.
The effect of the Government’s proposed Energy Bill will be to make legislative changes to remove onshore wind farms with a generating capacity of more than 50MW from the Planning Act 2008 regime. At present, onshore wind farms with a generating capacity of more than 50MW are consented under the Planning Act 2008 regime, which applies to nationally significant infrastructure projects, where the final decision on applications rests with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. This represents the first time that a type of infrastructure will have been removed from the Planning Act 2008 regime.
The legislative amendments which the Energy Bill will introduce will hand local planning authorities consenting powers for all onshore wind farms; in practice, this will mean bringing onshore wind farms with a generating capacity of more than 50MW back within the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 regime. This amendment is in line with the Conservative’s election manifesto, which promised a change in law to give local communities the final say on wind farm applications, and will mean that large scale onshore wind farms will be determined in the same way as smaller onshore wind farms. To give effect to the proposals, section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 will also need to be amended. Before the introduction of the Planning Act 2008, onshore wind farms with a generating capacity of more than 50MW required consent under section 36; this consent was also granted by the Secretary of State.
The legislative changes are to be supported by changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Changes to the NPPF are to be introduced to give effect to the Conservative’s manifesto commitment that local communities should have the final say on planning applications for wind farms.
The proposed amendments do not extend to offshore wind farms; therefore, we expect that all offshore wind farms with a generating capacity of 100MW or more will continue to be consented under the Planning Act 2008.
At this stage it is not clear whether the Government, via legislation or policy considerations, will seek to exclude onshore wind farms from the remit of section 35 of the Planning Act 2008. Section 35 allows the Secretary of State, in some circumstances, including in relation to development of a project in the field of energy, to give a direction that that development is to be treated as development for which development consent is required. This may provide a route for large scale onshore wind farms to continue to be consented within the Planning Act 2008 regime.
The Government is considering how the changes will apply in Wales, where changes proposed by the Silk Commission may mean that Wales will have the power to decide how to manage planning applications for onshore wind farms up to a generating capacity of 350MW. The proposed amendments will not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland.