Revised NPPF Published – Implications for Onshore Wind
Following months of speculation, on the 5th September, in a statement released by Levelling Up Secretary; Michael Gove, immediate changes were confirmed to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
Of note are changes associated with onshore wind. Essentially, the government has lifted strict rules regarding new onshore wind projects (which were imposed in 2015 by David Cameron’s Government – only 20 new onshore wind turbines were granted planning permission in the past 9 years) by broadening the ways in which suitable sites can be found. While welcomed in some quarters, they have also been criticised for not going far enough by various environmental groups.
The changes amend paragraphs 155 and 158 of the NPPF (and associated footnotes), which relate to renewable energy development. The most substantial change is that impacts of onshore wind developments now have to be addressed ‘appropriately’, whereas before they were required to address such impacts ‘fully’. This represents a softening of the position and indicates a less onerous test for such proposals to achieve planning permission.
The changes also allow for sites to be identified for wind developments through Supplementary Planning Documents. This is a positive change, allowing supportive Local Planning Authorities to allocate suitable sites through a much quicker process. Previously this was done via the preparation of a Development Planning Document, which required multiple rounds of consultation and a formal Examination in Public.
In principle, this could reduce the timescale for selecting appropriate locations from years to months. The amendments also mean that developments for onshore wind now have to show ‘community support’. This is a shift from the previous requirement to show they had ‘the backing of the community’. While on paper this doesn’t appear to mean much, the Government has indicated they will be publishing new guidance on how applicants can demonstrate this support later this year.
Given the ongoing issues of energy security and rising energy bills, solutions that can promote renewable energy are to be welcomed. Do the announced changes go far enough in promoting onshore wind? Whilst the restrictions have been loosened, the NPPF still requires onshore wind farms to be located in areas identified in development plans or in supplementary planning documents. This, in practice, still limits the areas where onshore wind farms can be located and means that there may not be enough investment at the scale needed to rapidly boost energy security.
These latest amendments were just some of the NPPF changes the Government consulted on last year to reflect their proposed planning policy changes. The consultation closed on 2nd March 2023 and received over 26,000 responses – the outcome of which has not yet been fully reported. It looks like we will have to wait a little longer for these further changes to the NPPF, particularly those which deal with the pressing issues of housing delivery and which twin track with the new Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill currently making its way through Parliament.