On 8 June 2021, Baroness Hayman (Crossbench) introduced her Onshore Wind Bill [HL] in the House of Lords. Its second reading is scheduled to take place on 19 November 2021.

In the 2019–21 parliamentary session, Baroness Hayman introduced a similar bill—Contracts for Difference and Onshore Wind Bill [HL]—however, it did not progress past first reading in the House of Lords.

What would the bill do?

The Onshore Wind Bill [HL] would require the Government to amend planning guidance to enable local planning authorities to grant more onshore wind applications for the purpose of meeting the UK’s carbon budgets.

Explaining the rationale for the bill, Baroness Hayman said:

The purpose of the Onshore Wind Bill is to support the decarbonisation of the UK’s power sector, which is necessary to achieve the UK’s legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050 and which will require a diverse energy generating mix, including offshore wind, onshore wind and other renewable energy sources. Despite the important role onshore wind has to play in the UK’s renewable energy mix, current planning policy makes it challenging for onshore wind projects to gain planning consent.

The Onshore Wind Bill would require national planning guidance on onshore wind to be revised to enable local planning authorities to consent to more onshore wind projects which in turn would support achievement of our net zero targets. A revised policy would aim to achieve an effective balance between community support, environmental impact and the UK’s future renewable energy requirements.

Provisions of the bill

The bill has one substantive clause:

Subsection 1 would require the secretary of state to revise national planning guidance on onshore wind within six months of the act coming into force. This revision would need to be in accordance with the objective set out in subsection 2, which is to ensure that guidance permits local planning authorities to grant onshore wind applications for the purposes of:

  • meeting the UK’s carbon account target under section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008;
  • installing new sites not previously used for generating wind energy; and
  • repowering existing onshore wind installations.

Subsection 3 would give direction on what counts as ‘national planning guidance’, stating that it includes:

Subsection 3 also states that ‘repowering onshore wind installations’ means “the replacement of turbines, or parts thereof, at existing onshore wind installations, or the extension of the period of permitted operation of such installations”.

The bill’s other clause states that it would apply to England and Wales and would come into force on the day it receives royal assent.

What are the current rules in relation to planning?

Most onshore wind turbines require the local planning authority for the relevant area to grant planning permission. This requirement followed a commitment in the Conservative Party’s 2015 manifesto. The party had argued that onshore windfarms “often fail to win public support” and are “unable by themselves to provide the firm capacity that a stable energy system requires”. It said it would “end any new public subsidy for them and change the law so that local people have the final say on windfarm applications”.

The Conservative Government, led by former Prime Minister David Cameron, then announced new considerations to be applied to proposed wind energy developments in June 2015. A written ministerial statement said that 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.

The statement explained that “maps showing the wind resource as favourable to wind turbines, or similar, will not be sufficient” and reiterated that areas will need to have been “allocated clearly in a local or neighbourhood plan”. It also said that whether a proposal has the backing of the affected local community is a planning judgment for the local planning authority. In addition, it set out transitional provisions where a valid planning application had already been submitted to a local planning authority, but the development plan did not identify suitable sites.

The Government stated that these plans meant that “local people have the final say on wind farm applications”. It said they would take effect from 18 June 2015.

Reacting to the statement, Renewable UK—a not for profit renewable energy trade association—said that the new policy would restrict the use of onshore wind in favour of other energy policies.

Have there been calls for change?

Focusing on the impact of this policy, Rebecca Windemer, a postdoctoral fellow in planning and energy at Cardiff University, has highlighted Government data showing that there were eight onshore wind farm applications for new or extended sites submitted in England between 2016 and 2020. This compared to 237 applications submitted between 2011 and 2015—a 96 percent decrease. In addition, she noted that 16 new turbines were granted planning permission between 2016 and 2020 in seven separate locations. In contrast, between 2011 and 2015, 435 turbines were built on 108 sites.

Based on these figures, Rebecca Windemer argued that the current planning conditions mean that developers “will not risk the huge expense of preparing and submitting a planning application if it can be blocked by a small number of opponents”.

Despite this, she still believes onshore wind has an important role to play in the UK’s renewable energy mix. She said that between April and June 2020 renewables generated nearly 45% of the UK’s electricity, with onshore wind generating about 20% of that.

However, highlighting Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s promise that every home in the UK will be powered by wind in ten years, Ms Windemer said that “current government policy needs to change”. She argued that a different approach to planning could lead to onshore wind being developed quickly and cheaply, “providing benefits to communities that offshore wind farms often can’t”.

Similar points have recently been raised by campaign groups. For example, Renewable UK published a report in October 2021 which found that planning authorities are approving less than half of the onshore wind capacity that the country will need to install each year to achieve net zero targets. It called on the UK Government to explore reforms to English planning. In addition, Friends of the Earth has called on the Government to “reform the planning system so that it provides a clear, positive planning framework for onshore wind power”. Until this is done, it stated that local authorities and communities should be encouraged to prepare local or neighbourhood plans to identify and bring forward suitable wind allocations.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee also noted that despite being low-cost and low-carbon, the deployment of onshore wind power—alongside large-scale solar power—had “fallen drastically” since 2015. The committee’s report, Clean Growth: Technologies for Meeting the UK’s Emissions Reduction Targets, argued that:

The Government should actively encourage and support local authorities to adopt planning practices that promote local support for such renewable energy projects.

However, some politicians have cautioned against approving all planning applications. Liam Kerr, energy spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives, has argued that it would be “wrong to green light every onshore wind farm application without also considering potential detriments to businesses, communications and local landscapes”. There has also been local opposition in areas where onshore wind farms have been proposed, with concerns raised about the impact on the local landscape and economy.

What has the Government said recently?

In March 2020, the Government confirmed that it did not have plans to revisit national planning policy for onshore wind energy schemes.

The same month, the Government also announced that it would allow onshore wind projects to compete for subsidies alongside solar power developments and floating offshore wind projects in a new auction scheme (Contracts for Difference (CfD): Allocation Round 4). However, in his statement, Alok Sharma, then Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that he was “mindful of the importance of meaningful engagement with local communities” and that:

Local communities will have a more effective voice on developments that impact them, through proposals for tough new guidance on community engagement for developers of onshore wind across Great Britain, also announced today. They will have a definitive say on whether projects are allowed to proceed. It will remain the case that no English onshore wind project can proceed without the consent of the local community.

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Cover image by Thomas Reaubourg on Unsplash.