Community consultation for onshore wind developments

Government U-turns are nothing new but the recent move by Communities and Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove to remove the operational ban on onshore wind development in England and Wales, signals a significant break with past energy policy and drives the party back toward a more pragmatic approach to renewable energy.

Leaving aside any polling-led motivation for the switch, let’s take a look at what this means for developers and what they have to do to secure consent for an onshore development now that the ‘single objector’ veto has been removed.

Before we get into the meat of this, let’s take a quick detour through the renewables sector to get a handle on the scale of the sector and what the opportunity might be for developers.

According to figures from trade body RenewableUK, there are currently almost 9,000 onshore turbines across the country which are sized over 100kW. Combined with offshore capacity, wind power generates over 80 million MWh of clean electricity – enough to power nearly 23 million homes and save 34 million tonnes of C02 being released into the atmosphere every year.

Do people support or oppose onshore wind generation?

Support for onshore wind is, perhaps, surprisingly strong with 79 per cent telling the government’s attitudes tracker they support onshore wind and just 4 per cent oppose. But, there is nuance here. When asked if they support developments local to them, support drops to 43 per cent and opposition grows to 12 per cent.

To address these concerns, the 2015 Government first routed all onshore wind developments through the LPA and ensured that local communities were able to have their say on such projects through a requirement for pre-application community consultation. And it is these best practice principles which are being carried forward into new policy through an update to the NPPF.

What is considered best practice for community consultation?

In its Developing Local Partnerships for Onshore Wind in England report which accompanied the ministerial statement, the Government sets out exactly what it expects of developers. Albeit a consultation document itself, it is clear that the direction of travel is pointing toward more, not less, community engagement.

When new applications come forward, the Government’s expectation boils down to developers demonstrating they have considered how to:

  • Plan their engagement, but also designed and developed their plan for engagement alongside the community and in response to feedback;
  • Engage with the community as early as possible and be transparent about their proposal;
  • Thought carefully about the characteristics of the affected local community, recognising that every community is different, and taken identifiable steps to reach as many people in that community as possible;
  • Use a variety of engagement methods to gather feedback, ranging from traditional in-person methods to digital and online platforms, to innovative community outreach techniques; and
  • Plan for on-going engagement across the lifetime of the site.

Although these are higher barriers than any other development type faces, they are achievable and should lead to new applications landing successfully at committees. Scrutiny will be placed on the first out of the gate and getting the consultation right could well be the difference between a consent and a refusal.

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