The renewables sector received another mixed message last Monday, with RWE’s successful application for judicial review of Milton Keynes Council’s wind turbine buffer zone policy: R(RWE Npower Renewables Limited) v (1) Milton Keynes Council [2013] EWHC 751 (Admin). The application succeeded on a single ground, which was that the Council’s Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) was in conflict with its adopted local plan.

The local plan set out minimum separation distances of 350 metres between wind turbines and residential properties. However, the SPD, which the Council introduced in July 2012, increased the distances for turbines taller than 100 metres to over 1 kilometre. RWE notified the Council in September 2012 that it considered the SPD to be in conflict with both the Council’s own planning policy and government policy.

The Administrative Court ruled on 15 April that there was a conflict with the Council’s existing policy and that this was a breach of regulation 8(3) of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 (SI2012/767).

This Court ruling is the latest in a series of mixed messages that the sector has been receiving recently. At government level, we have seen the “off message” former Energy Minister John Hayes’ comments about wind farms peppering the countryside, swiftly followed by Energy Secretary Ed Davey’s assurances that there has been no change to the government’s renewable energy policy. At local level, it remains to be seen whether other councils that were considering enlarging buffer zones will be chastened by Milton Keynes’ experience, and of course whether Milton Keynes Council will appeal to the Court of Appeal.