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Onshore wind planning changes only a ‘slight softening at the edges’

The Government’s proposed changes to planning permission for onshore wind have been described by industry experts as “a slight softening at the edges but nothing more”.

Michael Gove announced in a written ministerial statement that communities will be able to apply for onshore wind farms to be built through different routes of the planning system in the hope of speeding up their development.

Councils will also be told to be mindful of the majority opinion and not just a vocal minority, with communities open to onshore wind potentially receiving discounts on their energy bills.

James Robottom, head of onshore wind at RenewableUK, the industry trade association, said: “The proposed changes don’t go far enough.

“We will still face a planning system stacked against onshore wind that treats it differently to every other energy source or infrastructure project.

“A lot will be open to interpretation and there are still hurdles to navigate which remain in place.

“There has been a slight softening at the edges but nothing more.

“As a result, we’re not going to see investment into new onshore wind at the scale needed to rapidly cut bills and boost energy security.”

Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall described the policy softening as a “complete fudge”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “I mean it really is not going to do the job that the Government is pretending that it might do.

“And this is part of a bigger pattern where effectively this Government is gaslighting the whole country about their climate policy, about net zero and, in this latest instance, about onshore wind which is of course the cheapest and cleanest form of electricity.”

Dhara Vyas, deputy chief executive of Energy UK – which represents the power sector, welcomed the Government’s willingness to make onshore wind development more accessible, but said it is still treated as an outlier.

She said: “While today’s statement confirms the changes the Government proposed last year, it has not, as yet, put onshore wind in the position where it is treated the same in the same way as other infrastructure planning applications.

“Without that, this will represent a missed opportunity as developers will remain reluctant about committing the time and expense of putting forward new onshore projects knowing they still face a higher risk of being blocked.”

The new Secretary of State for Energy Secretary and Net Zero, Claire Coutinho, described onshore wind as having a “key role to play”, adding that the new changes will “speed up delivery of projects where local communities want them”.

Onshore wind farms have received strong opposition from other Conservative MPs over the years, who see them as a blight on the British countryside.

Energy experts have calculated that a lack of onshore wind is costing UK households £5.1 billion extra on their energy bills.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at LSE’s Grantham Research Institute, said: “It is good that the Government has taken this decision, but it is long overdue.

“Onshore wind is the cheapest form of clean energy and it was sheer madness for the Government to have maintained barriers to new developments during an energy crisis that was triggered by our dependence on natural gas.

“We have all been poorer and colder because of the effective ban on onshore wind.”

The changes come after former Cop26 president Alok Sharma proposed an amendment to the Energy Bill that would end the effective ban on new onshore wind farms while requiring the Government show developers how local communities support their plans and how wind farms can provide financial benefits.

However, Mr Sharma withdrew the amendment before a vote on Tuesday afternoon, citing the ministerial statement from Mr Gove.

Zoisa North-Bond, CEO of Octopus Energy Generation, said her company has had over 20,000 requests from communities wanting local wind turbines and the new changes will allow them to be built.

She said: “Streamlining the red tape, making the process more democratic, and speeding up the way local authorities can allocate sites for wind are all big steps in the right direction. New onshore wind can now be an even bigger part of the UK’s energy mix.

“This is especially significant in today’s cost of living crisis where it’s vital we accelerate bringing one of the cheapest and quickest forms of energy to customers.”