On Sunday, 2 October 2011, Energy Minister Charles Hendry spoke to the Conservative Party conference. He committed himself to nuclear power and offshore energy, and to creating jobs. He repeated the prime minister’s (empty, but there we go) promise ‘to ensure that those communities which do host [renewable energy power stations] receive much more direct benefit’.
He also acknowledged that: ‘we hear very clearly the concerns expressed across the country about the balance between energy security and the impact on our countryside’ … but went on to re-affirm the government’s commitment to onshore wind power:
In the cold blustery days of much of the winter, wind energy can make a real contribution … The subsidy system, based on how much electricity is actually generated, will help to ensure that wind developments go where the wind resource is strongest.
And then he told a lie.
… and our planning reforms will give more powers to communities to decide where such developments go.
Up to that point his speech had been disappointing, but fair comment.
But when he claimed that ‘our planning reforms will give more powers to communities to decide where such developments go’ he was telling a direct and provable lie.
The Draft National Planning Policy Framework is currently out for consultation, and it has a number of things to say about renewable energy.
The ‘golden thread’ running through entire Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development – i.e. that the answer to every planning application will be ‘yes’, except where the proposed development is not ‘sustainable’ development.
Now, wind farms are, by definition, sustainable development.
Let’s take the Framework's statement on Green Belt land.At first it seems quite hopeful:
146. When located in the Green Belt, elements of many renewable energy projects will comprise inappropriate development. In such cases developers will need to demonstrate very special circumstances if projects are to proceed.
Not bad, eh?
But then you need to remember that wind farms are, by definition, sustainable development.
So paragraph 146 goes on:
Such very special circumstances may include the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy from renewable sources.
Thus paragraph 146 is not a bar to building wind farms on green belt land, but an endorsement of it!
In fact, given the explicit acknowledgement that ‘the wider environmental benefits associated with ... energy from renewable sources’ are ‘very special circumstances’, it is hard to see on what basis a Planning Authority could refuse an application to build a wind farm on the Green Belt.
Even more damningly, read the second half of paragraph 153:
Once opportunity areas for renewable and low-carbon energy have been mapped in plans, local planning authorities should also expect subsequent applications for commercial scale projects outside these areas to demonstrate that the proposed location meets the criteria used in identifying opportunity areas.
What does this mean? It means, quite bluntly, that – once a Planning Authority has identified an area as suitable for renewable energy projects, it must EXPECT applications for outside that area and that – in such cases – such applications will also have a presumption in favour of sustainable development ... provided the company can show that the agreed criteria apply in the new area.
Thus, paragraph 153 does not allow a Planning Authority to determine opportunity areas for renewable energy – rather it allows energy companies to make applications, with a presumption for ‘yes’, in ANY places suitable for a wind farm.
But what did Minister Hendry say? 'Our planning reforms will give more powers to communities to decide where such developments go’.
Do YOU think he was telling the truth?