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Planning regime changes relating to onshore wind

The UK Government recently announced its intention to relax the ban that has effectively been in place in respect of the development of new onshore wind projects in England and Wales.

Since 2016, planning requirements have been such that it has effectively been impossible to obtain planning permission for new onshore wind projects in England and Wales. During this period it has been possible to obtain planning for such developments in Scotland, where control over planning is devolved to the Scottish government.

As a consequence, England and Wales are lagging behind Scotland in the adoption of onshore wind, still one of the most cost-effective forms of renewable generation.

The changes proposed by the UK Government were made to the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill which is currently in the House of Lords. If the Bill is approved in its current form it would give local councils a greater degree of flexibility in determining whether or not to approve new onshore wind projects.

Whilst this is certainly a positive development, it by no means represents an opening of the floodgates to new onshore wind developments. Developers will still need to engage with the planning departments at local councils and this will likely continue to be a lengthy and costly process. There is also no certainty that local councils will be receptive to onshore wind developments, which will likely result in significant regional differences in the deployment of new onshore wind generation across England and Wales.

This change in approach to onshore wind from the UK Government comes at a time when public attitudes towards renewable energy are becoming increasingly positive. According to the most recent polling from the Public Attitudes Tracker, 88% of people in the UK support the use of renewable energy (up 4% on the previous year). 79% of people supported onshore wind, with only 4% opposed to it. The increasingly positive attitude over the last few years amongst the general public towards renewable electricity, together with the focus on the need for resilience underscored following the Russian invasion of Ukraine can only have been a contributing factor in the willingness of MPs to pressure the UK Government to change its approach to onshore wind.

These changes come at a time when the latest study by the Energy Transition Readiness Index states that the UK is lagging behind other European countries in its journey towards Net Zero and doubts continue to be raised regarding the UK’s ability to reach that milestone by 2050. Hopefully the change in the approach to planning will result in a material increase in the development of new onshore wind projects, thereby assisting the UK in getting on track to reach Net Zero by 2050 and achieving a fully decarbonised grid by 2035.

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