Jul/Aug preview: Winds of change in the UK air?

Nick Green, Savills

The Ministerial Statement on planning and wind farms, published by the UK Government in early June, will deliver little in the way of change, say Nick Green and Richard Frost of Savills Energy, but the potential implications of the community benefit clause, if extended to all forms of energy, could be more far-reaching...

This article excerpt is taken from the forthcoming issue of Renewable Energy Focus magazine (July/August issue). To register to receive a digital copy click here.

Nick Green is an associate director at Savills Energy, specialises in advising land owners and developers involved with wind farms and other renewable energy infrastructure.

He comments, “the political and economic wind of change is, in appearance at least, blowing against the sustainable development of onshore wind farms. Indeed, people power seems, in the public eye, to have far greater weight than the sustainable energy initiatives which are required to keep the UK’s lights on.”

Frost, a director at Savills, is an expert in wind farm planning. He is of the view that, “there is little in the ministerial planning statement that is not already included in the National Planning Policy Framework. The only real legal change requires developers to consult with local communities before lodging a planning application – something which most wind developers already do as a matter of course.”

Frost highlights, however, that the tone of the statement is negative and it appears to be directed at the planning inspectorate. He considers that there might be more project proposals refused at appeal due to general countryside protection reasons, but the change won’t be dramatic, because the ‘need’ argument is not getting any weaker.

“If the government wanted to bring about radical change,” says Frost, “it wouldn’t have come up with the policy wording in the National Planning Policy Framework a year ago and would have now reduced the ROC level further.”

Frost emphasises that the statement refers to new planning practice guidance currently being drafted. “This has been in preparation for some time and is not a knee-jerk consequence of the ministerial statement. Some are worried that it might encourage councils to draw up minimum residential separation policies. But the indications from recent parliamentary questions on this matter are that it won’t, although some councils are set on that course anyway.”

As part of the proposed government reforms to the planning regime, wind farm developers will be required to give communities a minimum of £5000 per megawatt of turbine capacity each year – up from the existing £1000 requirement – to be spent on local projects or delivering discounts to energy bills for those in the ‘affected’ area.

Green comments: “Although the proposals go beyond what is legally required today, the reality is that most developers are already contributing at higher rates to the local community. Indeed, in Scotland, the community incentive payments often exceed the £5000 per megawatt outlined in the much-heralded government announcement. In addition, there is – at this stage – no plan for local referendums or vetoes.”

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