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Onshore Wind

Volume 605: debated on Thursday 11 February 2016

2. What progress she has made on ensuring that local authorities decide all onshore wind applications. (903585)

My hon. Friend has worked incredibly hard to support local communities in having their say on the siting of wind farms. The Department for Communities and Local Government updated planning guidance alongside its written ministerial statement on 18 June 2015, giving local authorities the final say. Now that the Energy Bill has completed its Committee stage, with my hon. Friend’s support, I can tell him that we are making excellent progress on delivering the Government’s manifesto commitment.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Like me, she will know that the Conservative manifesto contained two pledges on onshore wind: one to remove subsidies and the other to change planning guidance. Given the growing concern about amplitude modulation coming from onshore wind turbines, when will planning guidance on that be given to local authorities?

My hon. Friend has personally done some excellent work researching this serious issue, and my Department has commissioned an independent review that includes many of the issues he has raised. We expect to receive the final report of the review shortly, and the Government will then consider how to take forward their recommendations, including on whether a planning condition might be appropriate.

The Minister must be aware that applications for onshore wind power should be based on merit. Given what has happened over the past five years, is there not a real danger that the barmy army of nimbys on the Benches behind her will ensure, working with their local councils, that no good proposal goes through?

I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to some of my excellent hon. Friends, who are superb constituency MPs. We will have to agree to disagree. I am sure he would agree, however, that the role of an MP is to represent the interests of their constituency as they see them. We have now struck the right balance between the country’s need for superb renewables—it is now a very successful sector—and the need of local communities to have their wishes and their environment taken into account.

Prior to the Energy Act 2013, Scottish Ministers had full control over the renewables obligation. That power was removed on the clear understanding and promise that there would be no policy implications. Why was that promise broken, and will the Minister commit to backing the Scottish National party’s calls for that power to be returned to Holyrood as part of the Energy Bill?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that the reason we are closing the subsidy for onshore wind a year early is in great part to avoid the additional costs to the bill payer of extra deployment beyond our calculations of what could be expected. This is about trying to keep consumers’ bills down. We have had a number of debates about fuel poverty, and striking that balance is absolutely vital. It is in the interests of the whole of UK that we do not keep burdening bill payers with more costs.

What discussions has the Minister had with her colleagues in the devolved Administrations to ensure that wind applications made in those jurisdictions are able to be processed effectively?

As the hon. Lady will know, we have frequent conversations with Ministers in the devolved Parliaments and we try to ensure that they are included in all the discussions, as they certainly have been with those on onshore wind. As she will know, planning at all levels is being devolved to local planning authorities, and it will then be for the Scottish Parliament to decide exactly what the appropriate planning process should be for onshore wind in Scotland.

Can we have some consistency from the Minister? Why does she support the imposition of fracking on communities against their will? Why can she not extend the same courtesy to those communities that she has extended to those affected by wind farms?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, onshore wind has already been deployed to a great extent. As I have just said, it is already at the level of deployment we expected to see by 2020, so it is right that local communities’ views should be taken into account. With hydraulic fracturing, however, absolutely no shale gas extraction is taking place anywhere in the UK at the moment. There are no wells, and there is not even any exploration, yet it is vital to the UK’s energy interests that we explore this home-grown energy, which could be vital for jobs, growth and of course energy security.