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Onshore Wind Farms

Volume 557: debated on Thursday 31 January 2013

9. What steps he is taking to enable local communities to express opposition to onshore wind farms in their area. (140460)

It is important that communities have a real opportunity to have a say over development in their area, which is why this Government’s planning reforms put local communities in the driving seat. Our recent call for evidence looked at how communities can be better engaged with, and receive greater benefit from, hosting onshore wind in their area, and there will be a report in the summer.

Powys council is a small, rural, hard-pressed local planning authority that is currently having to divert £2.8 million from public services to defend refusals of wind farms at public inquiry, and the local community is also raising £150,000 for the same purpose, while developers have access to unlimited funds demanded from consumers. Will my right hon. Friend tell us how this can possibly be fair?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. He will understand that planning issues and support for local communities and local authorities are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and in my hon. Friend’s constituency for people in the Welsh Assembly Government, no doubt, but he makes a fair point. One reason why we have made the call for evidence on how local communities can benefit is to ensure that developers come forward and engage with local communities far better and in a less adversarial way than we have seen in some cases.

Community groups in my part of Edinburgh, with which I am working, have been trying to set up an onshore wind turbine in the area. They have raised funds for a serious proposal, but have been bogged down by all sorts of bureaucratic nightmares, which in this case relate to Scottish Water and the Scottish Government. There are issues across the UK with communities that want to set up wind farms and renewable energy schemes but are not being allowed to do so. When the Minister looks at how to deal with those who oppose wind farms, will he also look at how we can support those who want community-owned wind farms to be set up in parts of the UK where they are popular?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: there are a number of communities that want to host wind farms, in places where it is appropriate to site wind farms. The Government’s whole approach is to try to work with local communities, to empower them and, with our latest call for evidence, to reach out to communities that do not want wind farms and ensure that they have more of a voice, and to enable those that do want them to proceed. That seems the right and fair way forward.

I do not know whether the Secretary of State has had the opportunity to read The Sun newspaper this morning, but he may have missed the article about a 115-foot wind turbine in Bradworthy in Devon that was blown over by the wind. I wonder whether he can reassure my constituents in Sherwood, where one of these turbines will be built near a footpath or bridleway, that they will be safe. Can he look into this?

I am afraid to tell my hon. Friend that I have not read The Sun today, although I have heard reports of the incident that he talks about. Clearly people who develop, run and maintain wind farms, as with any sort of industrial installation, have to ensure that they are fit for purpose and are not a danger to the public, otherwise the various authorities will come down hard on them and they will find themselves liable.

15. Can the Minister reassure companies such as Siemens that under the contract for difference programme they will receive an appropriate strike price for the electricity they produce? (140468)

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s question. As I understand it, Siemens tends to be a manufacturer of turbines as opposed to a developer or a generator. It is the generators that will receive contracts for difference. If Siemens is involved in a consortium and is generating, it will receive the CFDs that will have their prices set administratively following the current consultation by National Grid—a point that will also be relevant if it is involved in and wins an auction post 2017.

Earlier this month Selby district council’s planning committee voted unanimously to reject a seven-turbine wind farm at Bishopwood near Selby. In his response to the Department’s call for evidence on wind energy, will the Secretary of State be backing localism or will he impose these unwanted schemes on local communities even when they have rejected them?

The hon. Gentleman should realise that the call for evidence is focused on how local communities benefit. It is not about reforming the planning system, which is obviously the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, although the overall thrust of our policies in this coalition Government is to empower local communities, because we have a strong localist agenda.