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Onshore Wind Farms

Volume 585: debated on Thursday 4 September 2014

In future, instead of a fixed level of subsidy, onshore wind will have to bid for support through our new contracts for difference, which will be allocated competitively so that only the best-value projects are supported. The first allocation rounds open in October.

Is the Minister aware that Norfolk hosts a large number of offshore wind arrays that command widespread public support, in stark contrast to most—not all—onshore wind farms, which can be very unpopular when they destroy beautiful landscapes? Further to his earlier reply, can he confirm that Norfolk will not have any more onshore wind farms imposed on it in the face of local opposition?

As I said, we have given more local control in the planning system, as well as changing the subsidy regime so that onshore wind would have to be competitive, for instance, against solar. As the costs of solar fall, it is increasingly able to compete for that subsidy. This is about getting the best possible value for money out of the subsidy but also ensuring that local people have a say in the planning system. I know some of the sites that my hon. Friend is talking about—indeed, I visited, or rather went past, one of the developments last month—so I know of the local concern in his constituency. We have to make sure that in future local people have more of a say, and we are doing that.

We should be very proud of the investment in renewable energy and the progress that has been made over the past four years, making this the greenest Government ever, to coin a phrase. The current policy of reducing the subsidies is absolutely sensible. However, may I gently say that sometimes those who make the most noise are a very vocal minority? My experience in my constituency is that a very few vocal people oppose wind farms whereas most people say, “Actually, not only do we not mind them, we quite like them.”

Where local people not only do not mind local wind farms but quite like them, and the local council decides that that is their democratic decision, giving them more power over the placement of local turbines is the right approach. This is about making sure that we have support locally.

Under the planning system there are separate land use categories for houses, industry and retail but there is no separate land use category entitled “energy generation”. This is an accident of history, because when electricity was first generated it was done only by the Crown using Crown prerogative. The reason local authorities are struggling with all the planning applications for wind farms and solar farms is that they do not have this separate land use category. Will the Minister be kind enough to agree to meet me and the Minister responsible for local government to see how that category could be introduced, because it would better facilitate and regulate the flow of planning applications through all the district councils up and down the land?

I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and the relevant Minister from the Department for Communities and Local Government, because of course planning issues are directly for that Department. While there may not be a separate category within the planning rules at one level, there is guidance explaining how the rules should be applied in terms of energy generation and transmission, so we just have to make sure that the details are right.