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Planning policy for onshore wind in England

All onshore wind turbines, except for small-scale domestic turbines, require planning permission from the local planning authority (LPA) in England. In September 2023, the government updated national planning policy to provide that LPAs should approve planning applications for an onshore wind farm if:

  • It is an area identified as suitable in the local development plan (local plan or a neighbourhood plan) or a supplementary planning document.
  • The planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been appropriately addressed and the proposal has community support.

Update to requirements introduced in 2015

In 2015, the government introduced requirements so that onshore wind farms could be built only where a proposal was located in a suitable area as set out in the development plan and had the backing of the local community.

It also changed the law in 2016 to require decisions on all onshore wind farms, regardless of their size, to be made by LPAs. This is different to the process for other infrastructure projects where decisions on major projects are made by the Secretary of State.

In September 2023, the government updated these policies to allow locations suitable for new wind farms to be identified in a number of ways (rather than only in the area’s development plan). The government also updated policies for replacing existing wind turbines, which are no longer subject to the same requirements as new turbines. Decisions will continue to be made by LPAs.

Views on planning rules for onshore wind

Renewable energy groups argued that the planning rules introduced in 2015 imposed “a de facto ban” on onshore wind and that the changes made in 2023 do not “go far enough” to enable the deployment of onshore wind. They have called on the government to align planning rules for onshore wind with the rules for decision-making on other types of energy projects to encourage its deployment and help to reach the government’s 2050 net zero target.

The Labour Party has also argued that onshore wind “should be treated no differently from any other local infrastructure project”.

However, conservation groups emphasised that planning restrictions on the siting of onshore wind turbines are important because of their potential landscape and visual impacts. For example, CPRE (formerly, the Council for the Protection of Rural England) expressed concern that “inappropriately sited” onshore wind farms could cause “significant harm” to the countryside.

Planning policy in devolved administrations

Planning is a devolved matter, and the devolved administrations have adopted different planning policies for onshore wind.

In England, decisions on all onshore wind developments are made by LPAs. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the size of a project determines which body decides an application for an onshore wind development.

Unlike in England, there is a general presumption in favour of granting planning permission to onshore wind turbines in other parts of the UK:

Onshore wind developments are restricted in designated areas, such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, across the UK.

Community benefits for hosting onshore wind

Some developers choose to deliver ‘community benefits’ to local communities that host onshore wind farms. These can take the form of community funds, compensatory payments to local residents (for example energy bill discounts) or shared ownership of onshore wind turbines.

Across the UK, government guidance recommends that renewable energy developers deliver community benefits. However, this is not mandatory, and their provision is separate from the planning process. This means community benefits cannot be considered by LPAs when they make planning decisions.

Views on community benefits

Some organisations, such as the National Infrastructure Commission, have said community benefits should be mandatory. Other groups, such as CPRE, have expressed “serious concern” that community benefits could potentially influence the decisions of local communities whilst not mitigating concerns about landscape impacts.

Commentators also disagree about the best approach to community benefits. Some supported energy bill discounts for local residents, while others said shared ownership should be offered as an option to all local communities.

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