Rejection rate now double that when coalition came to power, as onshore wind power becomes major area of political tension
About six out of 10 new UK onshore windfarm projects were rejected last year as a result of tougher planning guidelines and more applications being called in for a personal decision by the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, a report has found.
The analysis from the Fabian Society, a left-leaning thinktank, found 57% of all onshore projects were rejected in 2014, meaning only 161 mostly smaller ones got the go-ahead.
The rejection rate is now double that when the coalition came to power, as onshore wind power has become a major area of political tension.
While the Conservatives have promised a crackdown to placate MPs and voters who consider windfarms an eyesore in the countryside, the Lib Dems have claimed to be standing up for onshore wind.
In November, Ed Davey, the Lib Dem energy secretary, was forced to warn that continuing Tory opposition to onshore wind turbines was at risk of undermining the industry.
The Fabian report, Transition by Consent, highlights the gap between strong public support for renewable energy and the fact that a growing number of projects are failing to win local backing.
It recommends those planning wind projects need to get the support of residents as early in the process as possible to avoid the prospect of rejection.
It found 57% of wind projects were turned down in compared with 24% in 2009 and 37% in 2013.
By September last year, Pickles had intervened in at least 50 projects, only approving two of the 19 on which he had made a decision.
Cameron Tait, a senior Fabian researcher who wrote the report, said the challenge of decarbonising the British economy should not “be made worse by heavy handed intervention from ministers in Whitehall”.
“Ministers need to make it clear that if developers can win community consent and obey the laws of the land, they will get the go-ahead,” he said.
“New renewable energy infrastructure is key to keeping the lights on, tackling excessive energy bills and greening our economy. In order to make sure this is a transition that lasts in the long term, communities need to be partners in project design of new facilities that do more than just provide energy. Whether that’s jobs, infrastructure, sports and leisure facilities or anything else, we need to swap top-down control for local drive and initiative.”
Responding to the report, Kris Hopkins, a Conservative communities minister, said inappropriately sited wind turbines can be “a blight on the landscape, harming the local environment and damaging heritage for miles around”.
“The government has intentionally and transparently changed official planning guidance and appeal recovery rules to ensure that these issues are better taken into account,” he said. “Wind farm applications go to appeal when they have been rejected by the local council or granted subject to conditions. Every appeal is considered with due process on its individual merits, based on the particular circumstances of the case.”