A recent High Court judgement in England and Wales has important implications for wind farm developments throughout the UK. In essence, the decision is to the effect that developers and planning authorities are not obliged in all cases to consider whether there are alternative sites for a proposed wind farm development.
A planning application for the development of four wind turbines in the Peak District was rejected by Derbyshire Dales District Council on the ground, amongst others, that the development would have an adverse impact on the character and appearance of the Peak District National Park. On appeal the planning Inspector reversed the refusal and granted planning permission subject to conditions.
The planning authority, backed by the Peak District National Park Authority, challenged the decision of the Inspector on the ground, amongst others, that it was necessary for the Inspector to consider possible alternative sites, which he had not done.
The argument for the Council:
The Council argued that the development conflicted with the development plan, so the Inspector had made a fundamental error in not considering whether there was an alternative site for the development which would be less offensive to development plan policy.
After considering the relevant statute and case law, and the relevant planning policy, the court held that nowhere was there a positive obligation on the Inspector to consider alternative sites. The Inspector was able to use his judgement as to whether or not such consideration was relevant.
It would have been a bad day for wind farm development if the court had held that consideration of alternative sites was a necessary material consideration in all wind farm planning applications which were in some way in conflict with the relevant development plan. Thankfully the court has held that, although alternative sites may be a material consideration for some proposals which are objectionable in planning terms, they are not a necessary consideration for all proposals. Whether or not alternative sites are material to the decision-making process is a matter of planning judgement in each case.