• The government is keen to promote the development of the UK renewable energy sector. There are considerable benefits to the UK – including meeting climate change targets and providing energy security. This has been recognised in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF is the government’s high-level planning policy which must be taken into account by Local Planning Authorities (LPA’s) when they set out their local planning policies or when they make decisions on individual applications.

    For example, the NPPF states that LPA’s should have a strategy to promote energy from renewable and low carbon sources and should identify areas for this type of development.

    Large scale solar farms and onshore wind turbines are relatively easy to build and are generally cheaper than the alternatives, such as offshore wind and nuclear. Since the NPPF was published there has been huge growth in solar farm and onshore wind turbine development.

    However, the use of agricultural land for this purpose has proven to be highly controversial – particularly in sensitive or attractive areas of the published countryside. This has led to a clear change in tone from the government. In November 2013 the government provided guidance to local authorities which identified a need to crack down on inappropriately sited solar farms, and focus solar PV development on “brownfield” land or existing domestic and commercial roof space.

    Wind farms have also become controversial and since December 2013 there has been a legal requirement for developers to carry out pre-application consultation with the local community where more than two turbines are proposed or when the height of the turbine exceeds 15 meters.

    The government has also put in place measures to ensure that they have more control over appeals where planning permission for renewable energy schemes has been refused. Such appeals are normally decided by a planning inspector. However, in October 2013 Eric Pickles announced that for a six month period he would be deciding many of these appeals himself. That policy was recently extended by to April 2015.

    In the first instance decision on solar and wind farms are taken at a local level by the relevant LPA. LPAs have a delicate balance to strike, which has recently been highlighted in two cases.

    In April 2013 the High Court struck down a local policy by which Milton Keynes Council had sought to fix a minimum separation distance between turbines and residential properties.

    In the case of Holder v Gedling Borough Council, decided in May this year, the Court of Appeal overturned a decision by the LPA to grant planning permission for a 66 meter high wind turbine in the green belt. The council had failed to take account of relevant material considerations – including the fact that turbine would be inefficient, that it could be sited outside of the green belt and the existence of alternative methods of producing renewable energy. The Council also failed to consider the potential precedent of allowing the development with regard to any further development nearby.

    The tension within the government’s approach highlights the competing demands of national energy policy and local environmental concerns. As these two cases demonstrate this can make it hard to predict the outcome for individual planning applications on renewable energy schemes.

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