Onshore wind planning restrictions set for axe to ‘unlock its potential’

Surprise move in mini-Budget will scrap measures that mean a new project can effectively be vetoed by one person

Onshore wind generation will be unleashed across England after the Government promised to end a de facto ban on the technology to boost energy independence.

The surprise move will scrap planning restrictions for onshore wind that mean a new project can effectively be vetoed by one person. Rules will be brought in line with other infrastructure projects in order to “unlock the potential of onshore wind”, the Government said in its mini-Budget on Friday.

This could mean large onshore wind projects bypass local planning rules if they are designated as nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP), in line with other major energy developments.

New onshore wind is up to 10 times cheaper than current record high prices of wholesale gas, and the industry says turbines can be operational within a year of approval.

“Removing the block on onshore wind in England means we can generate significantly more cheap electricity for hard-pressed bill payers in areas where projects have local support,” said Dan McGrail, the chief executive of RenewableUK, an industry body.

“Once projects have planning permission they can be up and running within a year, so this technology offers us a great opportunity to tackle the cost of energy crisis.”

Onshore wind construction plummeted after the introduction of onerous planning rules by David Cameron’s government in 2015, and no major projects have been completed since then.

Between 2016 and 2021, only 11 wind farms were granted planning permission, accounting for 20 turbines, and installed capacity was just 2.6 per cent of that developed between 2009 and 2014.

Under the 2015 rules, onshore wind farms can only be built on areas that have been designated by local authorities – a task only 11 per cent of councils have undertaken.

Planning authorities must also have “fully addressed” any impacts identified by a local community, which experts say effectively gives veto power to anyone who objects.

Nearly 80 per cent of the public back onshore wind developments, according to the Government’s latest public attitudes tracker – but just 43 per cent would be happy for a wind farm in their local area.

Countryside groups and MPs have said a push for onshore wind could encourage “inappropriate” developments that they argue will spoil the landscape.

Paul Miner, the head of planning and policy at CPRE, the countryside charity, warned against “a developer-led free-for-all”, saying communities “need to be able to decide the most suitable locations and refuse the most damaging proposals”.

If brought in line with other renewable projects, larger onshore windfarms over 50MW will be designated as NSIPs and approved by the Business Secretary rather than through a local planning process.

The process will include a statutory community consultation at the pre-application stage and the opportunity for communities to submit representations later. For smaller projects, communities will be able to object during the planning process on grounds such as visual impact on a heritage area.

The Government has also encouraged wind farm operators to offer community benefits such as lower energy bills in areas where they build.

The renewables industry has said the final block to fully developing green energy is the capacity of the electricity grid, with some projects told they will not be able to connect this decade.

Earlier, plans to lift the planning ban on onshore wind under Boris Johnson were dropped after internal Tory party opposition, and the inclusion of the rule change in Friday’s mini-Budget came as a surprise to the industry.

The mini-Budget also included a commitment to streamline the planning process for offshore wind, which can currently take around four years.

It came a day after the Government formally dropped the moratorium on fracking for shale gas, which was imposed in 2019 after tremors at a site in Lancashire. Fracking has the support of just 17 per cent of people in the latest public attitudes tracker.