Onshore wind developments often divide communities. Last week the Court of Appeal clarified the meaning of the Written Ministerial Statement (WMS), issued in June 2015, on wind farm developments.
Wind farm developers will be pleased to hear that common sense has prevailed, with the Court of Appeal confirming that the WMS "does not elevate those members of the local community who have views which are the most vehemently opposed to a proposal into the arbiters of the view of the local community as a whole."
What was the issue for the Court of Appeal?
The WMS provides that "when determining planning applications for wind energy development involving one or more wind turbines, 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.
In applying these new considerations, suitable areas for wind energy development will need to have been allocated clearly in a Local or Neighbourhood Plan. Maps showing the wind resource as favourable to wind turbines, or similar, will not be sufficient. Whether a proposal has the backing of the affected local community is a planning judgement for the local planning authority.
Where a valid planning application for a wind energy development has already been submitted to a local planning authority and the development plan does not identify suitable sites, the following transitional provision applies. In such instances, local planning authorities can find the proposal acceptable if, following consultation, they are satisfied it has addressed the planning impacts identified by affected local communities and therefore has their backing."
The issue for the Court of Appeal was how planning impacts are addressed. The appellant contended that a planning impact could only be addressed if it has been eliminated or resolved. The appellant's view was that planning impacts are not addressed if they exist as harms, but are said to be outweighed by benefits.
What did the Court of Appeal decide?
The Court of Appeal decided that the natural meaning of the last sentence of the WMS is that a local planning authority can "find the proposal acceptable if it has sufficiently addressed the planning impacts through consultation with the relevant local community to the extent that it can properly conclude, in the exercise of its planning judgment, that the balance of opinion in the local community is likely to be in favour of the proposal."
The word "addressed" is not to be read as "eliminated" or "resolved". To do so would, in the view of the Court of Appeal, give those members of the community who were strongly opposed to the development a final say over whether or not the development could go ahead. It could also result in the WMS coming into conflict with national and local planning policy on wind energy. This cannot have been intended by the Secretary of State.
What happens now?
The position is that the Planning Committee must take into account objectors' views and then balance and reconcile the competing arguments. The fact that the WMS claims to give local people the final say is not strictly true; the objections of a local group cannot be the sole reason for refusing to grant planning permission for an onshore wind development.