Trade association RenewableUK said it is “shocked and disappointed” at news that Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles is to extend his control over all onshore wind decisions.
The industry group reacted with anger at what they described as the Government’s “anti-business, anti-localism” agenda and the decision to allow one man to personally decide the fate of each and every onshore wind farm in England.
Last week, ClickGreen revealed the approval rate for planned renewable energy installations in the UK has halved in the space of just three years and so far this year the success rate for onshore wind projects was just 24%.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Pickles announced in October 2013 that he would recover more renewable energy projects in England for a 6 month period, so he could determine how new planning guidance was being implemented.
Today he announced that he will be extending his period of pulling in decisions on renewable energy projects for a further 12 months. The announcement means that he has the option to take the final decision to consent or refuse all onshore wind farms in England personally.
Using recovery powers, Mr Pickles has pulled in 33 wind projects, made up of a mix of individual turbines or larger projects, comprising 93% of all wind energy capacity currently at appeal in England.
On top of this, two local authorities have been blocked from giving consent to three onshore wind projects, with the Secretary of State having removed, or having threatened to remove, their powers of decision making.
Of the 33 pulled in by the Secretary of State, decisions have been reached on 8 projects, with all but one refused. Two of the projects to have been turned down by Mr Pickles had previously been recommended for approval by the Planning Inspectorate, a non-executive agency of the Department for Communities and Local Government. One of these decisions is currently under judicial review.
RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive Maf Smith said: “Telling local authorities that they can’t decide on wind applications runs counter to the principles of the Localism Act, and introducing more delays is anti-business. The extension is a costly mistake for the UK.
“I expect the official planning bodies for this country will be up in arms that the planning system is being subjugated to political whim in this way.
“Mr Pickles’ intervention has led to further delays for developers, a couple of project withdrawals, and a court case. The fact that many of the projects he’s called in since June still haven’t had decisions shows that he’s got more than enough on his plate without adding to it, and disrupting more projects.
“Now is the time to let the planning system do its job - not to throw further confusion and delay into it with these anti-localism measures. His actions are also threatening the livelihoods of the nearly 19,000 people who owe their jobs to the UK’s onshore wind industry.
“The Secretary of State’s original justification for his decision to pull in these projects was that he wanted to see how his new guidance was being applied. Having done that, he has now decided to play politics with energy policy. Onshore wind developers will rightly be concerned about him continuing to undermine confidence in the planning system by taking these decisions himself.”
In a statement to Parliament today, Mr Pickles confirmed: “After careful consideration I have decided to extend the temporary change to the appeals recovery criteria and continue to consider for recovery appeals for renewable energy developments for a further 12 months.”
He added: “Prior to the guidance, more appeals were approved than dismissed for more significant wind turbines. Since the guidance, more appeals have been dismissed than approved for more significant turbines.”
Green energy company Ecotricity had a 4 turbine windfarm proposal in Somerset rejected by Eric Pickles last month as part of his initial six month trial of reviewing planning decisions, despite the Planning Inspector recommending the proposal for approval after a planning enquiry. Somerset currently has just 1 wind turbine is the whole of the county.
Dale Vince, Ecotricity founder, said: “This decision by Mr Pickles is anti-wind posturing, as all his interventions in the planning process have been so far, and par for the course from this Government.
“Only last month Mr Pickles ignored all expert advice to reject Ecotricity’s onshore wind proposal at Black Ditch in Somerset. after several years of environmental assessments, after both the Council’s Planning Officer and the Planning Inspector himself recommended the site for approval.
“We've worked diligently through the entire planning process, passed every test, including a public enquiry - only to have our application refused by a man that knows nothing on the subject. What faith can anyone have in the planning process when this can happen, when the rules are thrown out of the window on a whim?"