UK Planning Minister Backs Wind Farm Protesters
People opposed to onshore wind farms should not have their views “ridden over roughshod”, Britain’s planning minister has told the energy minister in a private letter.
Nick Boles told John Hayes, a fellow Conservative, that “local people have genuine concerns” and “wind farms are not appropriate in all settings”.
The Daily Telegraph has been told that Mr Boles warned Mr Hayes in the letter that people “bitterly resented” having onshore wind farm developments imposed on them by planners after an inquiry.
The intervention will be a major boost for communities which are fighting the construction of turbines near their homes.
It is also the first evidence of a Tory ministerial alliance against Liberal Democrat attempts to introduce more onshore wind turbines.
Mr Boles is looking to build an informal alliance against wind turbines with Mr Hayes, a near constituency neighbour, without having to get agreement from Ed Davey, the Lib Dem Climate Change Secretary.
Campaigners are fighting to halt the spread of wind turbines, with communities complaining that they blight properties and harm wildlife, particularly bats and birds.
There are currently 3,350 onshore turbines, generating five gigawatts (Gw) of power, which is enough for 2.4 million homes. Improvements mean that the approximately 2,682 turbines awaiting construction will produce about five Gw, with around a further 3,063 turbines — producing 7GW — in the planning system.
Many in the planning stage are in Scotland. Not all of these projects will be built — in England about half of all onshore wind projects do not receive planning approval.
To meet current targets, the Government is expected to need up to 13Gw of onshore wind by 2020.
Mr Boles, who is in charge of planning policy in England, wrote to Mr Hayes’s department to form part of a consultation into the community benefits of wind farms.
The letter, sent on Dec 20 to Mr Hayes after the consultation had closed, was described to The Daily Telegraph by a Whitehall source. In it, Mr Boles throws his weight behind communities fighting new onshore turbines. “We should be working with communities rather than seemingly riding roughshod over their concerns,” he wrote.
“Proposals allowed on appeal by planning inspectors can be bitterly resented,” he added. “We have been very clear that the Government’s policies on renewable energy are no excuse for building wind farms in the wrong places.
“We need a package of measures that can command broad public support which is consistent with our emphasis on local and neighbourhood planning which puts local communities in the driving seat. We should be quite clear that local communities and their accountable councils can produce their own distinctive plans to help shape where developments should and should not take place.”
Last night, a source close to Ed Davey said: “We don’t want to impose wind farms on communities but onshore wind remains an important part of our overall energy package.”
In November, Mr Hayes said there was no need for more onshore wind farms that were not already in the planning system, adding it was “job done” in terms of the number required for renewable energy targets.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “The whole point of the planning system is to ensure that developments happen in the right places and take into account local concerns.”
The department wanted communities “to feel greater benefit from hosting onshore wind farms. There are some terrific examples of best practice out there, where people feel positively about their local wind farms and we want to learn lessons from these.”
Jennifer Webber, the director of external affairs at RenewableUK, the body representing the industry, said that a record amount of onshore wind capacity had been approved at local level in 2012, suggesting growing community support. She said analysis showed that for every megawatt of wind energy installed “the local community benefits to the tune of £100,000” over the wind farm’s lifespan.
Mr Boles has emerged as a covert champion of opponents of wind power since he was appointed planning minister in the September reshuffle. Last month, he suggested wind farms should not be less than 1.4 miles from homes.