The UK has just entered into an historic period of coalition government, which promises to throw the nation’s hard-fought wind power policies into disarray. The coalition governments of Germany, Italy and Austria on the other hand, are forging ahead with inspired legislation, which may shine a light on Britain’s efforts. However, until these governments’ pioneering policies are recognised, it seems that the UK will continue to flounder…
Which way is the wind blowing? On the one hand, the Conservatives (Tories) have published the Renewable Energy Action Plan for the United Kingdom, which talks about the need to dramatically increase renewable energy generation; on the other hand, they have revoked Regional Spatial Strategies, which contain legally binding renewable energy targets. The left hand talks of the planning system continuing to act as an impediment to speedy deployment; the right hand takes away the most obvious strategic planning tool.
The move is towards local decision-making and away from centralised control. The Tories say that on-shore wind farms are not appropriate in all settings: local community consent is vital, and applications will need to be considered in the light of the possible impact on the local environment. This, according to the Conservatives, means allowing communities to be beneficiaries of onshore wind development. As stated in their pre-election Green Paper, “Open Source Planning”, their policy is to allow communities that choose to host wind farms to keep the business rates they generate for six years. They are also “examining how community ownership of wind turbines can be introduced”.
What this all means for the on-shore wind sector in practice isn’t clear; the early signs have not been promising. The first two decisions made by Eric Pickles, the UK’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, have resulted in refusal of permission for schemes in Yorkshire and the Borders. Near Wakefield, Pickles laced his decision letter with references to the revocation of the RSS and suggested that less weight be attached to meeting strategic targets. If this is the thin end of the wedge and an indication of what the Tories truly think about on-shore wind schemes, then we all have reason to worry.