This coalition government has reformed the planning process so that communities themselves have the opportunity to influence the decisions that affect their lives. We have abolished regional strategies, and their top down renewable energy targets, and are encouraging local councils to work with their communities to set out in their local plan where developments for renewable energy should and should not take place. We have also been very clear that the views of local communities should be listened to.
We have published planning guidance to help ensure planning decisions on green energy do get the environmental balance right in line with the National Planning Policy Framework. The guidance is designed to assist local councils in their consideration of local plans and individual planning applications. In publishing the guidance, we have been quite clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities. We have also introduced a new requirement for compulsory pre-application consultation with local communities for more significant onshore wind applications (ie of more than 2 turbines or where the hub height of any turbine exceeds 15 metres). This requirement took effect in December 2013. We will shortly be publishing new planning guidance to help secure the intended improvements in how communities are engaged on the department’s planning practice guidance website.
These are all crucial steps in improving the quality of proposed onshore wind development and ensuring local communities are listened to. However, this coalition government appreciates the continuing concerns in communities when a local decision is challenged on appeal. It is important that local communities continue to have confidence in the appeals process and that the environmental balance expected by the Framework is being reflected in decisions on renewable energy developments.
On 10 October 2013 I announced (Official Report, Column 30WS), a temporary change to the appeals recovery criteria, for a period of 6 months. In doing so, I explained that I wanted to give particular scrutiny to planning appeals involving renewable energy developments so that I could consider the extent to which the then new practice guidance was meeting our intentions.
I am pleased to confirm that the guidance is helping ensure decisions do reflect the environmental balance set out in the framework. I note, for example, that prior to the guidance, more appeals were approved than dismissed for more significant wind turbines. Since the guidance, more appeals have been dismissed than approved for more significant turbines. Every case should, of course, be considered on its individual merits in light of local circumstances and the material planning considerations.
I am encouraged by the impact the guidance is having but do appreciate the continuing concerns in communities. I also recognise that the guidance is still relatively new and some development proposals may not yet have fully taken on board its clear intent. Therefore after careful consideration I have decided to extend the temporary change to the appeals recovery criteria and continue to consider for recovery appeals for renewable energy developments for a further 12 months. This criterion is added to the recovery policy issued on 30 June 2008.
For the avoidance of doubt, this does not mean that all renewable energy appeals will be recovered, but that planning ministers may recover a number of appeals.