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Wind Farms

Volume 453: debated on Thursday 30 November 2006

3. What account is taken of local opinion in the planning regime in relation to applications for wind farm development. (106237)

Power station applications in England and Wales of up to 50 MW capacity, including wind farms, are decided by the relevant local authority. Above that level on shore, applications are decided by the Secretary of State, who will take into account environmental impacts, other relevant matters and, of course, the views of the local community. That includes the views of the local planning authority, community groups and individuals.

I recognise the need to increase the amount of energy that we get from renewable sources, but does the Minister accept that there are many preferable alternatives to onshore wind farm development, and is he aware that the application to build 10 400 ft wind turbines at Bradwell-on-sea, in my constituency, is massively opposed by the local community and has been rejected by the local planning authority? If it is allowed to go ahead, it will spoil one of the most beautiful and historic areas of the country.

Obviously, it would not be for me to comment on a particular proposal or application, but there is a growing consensus in our society and in Parliament about the importance of renewable energy. Some 4 per cent. of our electricity now comes from renewables, and we want to see a fivefold increase to 2020. That does not mean that we should say yes to every application, but that we should look at local concerns very seriously before saying yes or no.

My hon. Friend will recall from our last energy debate the importance that we all attach to renewables. If I may, I will reduce the scale just a little, down to individual domestic wind turbine installations. Come April or May of the new year, will such installations be permitted for individual houses without any planning regulation, on the same basis as television antennae, for example, which are already free of such restrictions? Will my hon. Friend enlighten me on that point? The first such proposed installation in Coventry—it happens to be in my constituency—has already become ensnared in impossible bureaucracy.

I suspect that I should declare an interest, Mr. Speaker, as someone who is awaiting a decision from Croydon council on my own application for a wind turbine. I understand that the Department for Communities and Local Government is reviewing the very issue that my hon. Friend raises. There is a body of opinion that thinks that, just as there is some easement regarding Sky satellite dishes, there should be some easement for this, in respect of local planning strictures.

Wind farms are of course welcome, provided that they are in the right place. Back in May, the Minister acknowledged that there was an unfair bias toward wind under renewable obligations. Given that fact, does he agree with me that all too often, many current applications have more to do with availability of site than with sustainability of project?

I am not sure that I can agree with that. As I said, these issues need to be decided on a project-by-project basis. Various projects have come before the Secretary of State, including an important one at Whinnash, the answer to which, following an inquiry, we judged should be no. An equally controversial project was planned for Romney Marsh, which we thought should go ahead. However, we will not get very far if there is a wide body of consensus saying, “Yes, climate change is the big issue facing us, and yes, we need more renewable energy—but when it comes to my constituency, no, no, no.” There has to be some moderation.

We were very sorry when the hon. Gentleman was moved from his post as Minister for Energy, but it seems today that we can welcome him straight back to his previous responsibilities. What are the Government’s plans for publishing new legislation to govern the planning procedures for onshore and offshore wind? When do they expect to publish it, will it be separate from the energy White Paper expected in March, and what criteria does he think will be the most important in determining where these wind turbines will be permitted?

I should start by saying that there is widespread concern that, although we need to pay proper regard to local community concerns, it takes far too long to reach a decision on the energy infrastructure that we need, whether it be a wind farm or a new power station of whatever kind. We all understand that we need massive investment in energy infrastructure over the coming five, 10 or 15 years. The Government are therefore looking very seriously at those planning issues, so that we may achieve a better balance between local concerns and our energy security needs. That will be reflected in the White Paper that the Secretary of State has said will be published in March.