Will the relaxation of planning rules encourage onshore wind development?

5 minute read
08 September 2023

This week, the Government has announced amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to ease planning restrictions. The hope is that it will make it easier for onshore wind farms to be built, and end a de facto ban on such developments.

Under the current system – introduced by David Cameron's Government in 2015 – local authorities in England can reject an application to build an onshore windfarm based on a single objection from a local resident. In addition, any new development must also have been included in the local authority's local development plan. These restrictions, which do not apply to other energy developments, have been criticised, as they effectively stop onshore wind development. Between 2016 and 2022, only 12 planning applications for onshore wind farms (totalling 21 turbines) in England were approved. That is only 2.7% of the number of turbines that had planning permission granted for the previous six years (2009 to 2015)[1].

The amendments to the NPPF:

  • give planning authorise the power to grant permissions if it can be demonstrated that local residents have been consulted (rather than every single concern needing to be addressed), with approval being given on the basis that local support can be evidenced (with local residents being incentivised with the proposal that they will benefit from cheaper energy bills); and
  • allow potential windfarm sites to be identified and secured without needing to be fully assessed and included in the local authority's local development plan

The hope is that this significantly dilutes the two planning tests from 2015. Going forward, wind turbines could now be permitted through Local Development Orders (LDOs[2]) and Community Right to Build Orders

How have these reforms been received?

Some say these reforms don't go far enough. Labour's shadow energy and net zero secretary, Ed Miliband, said the planning system "remains stacked against onshore wind", with some ministers proposing the removal of developers' rights to appeal planning decisions.

With the UK being a world leader in offshore wind (with sea turbines generating enough electricity to power 41% of the nation's homes last year [3] many see onshore wind playing a vital part in the country's journey to net zero. To achieve this, many say that such developments should not be subject to more restrictions than other energy developments.

While this feels like a step in the right direction, the Energy Bill is due to receive Royal Assent later this month, so further debate is urgently needed. As is the need to meet the country's decarbonisation goals, many existing onshore windfarms are reaching the end of their 25-year planning permissions. The bill will also be critical in repowering those sites, so full parliamentary scrutiny is urgently needed.


[1] Dr Rebecca Windemer: Do we need new onshore wind farms in England?
[2] What are LDOS and Community Right to Build Orders?

LDOs provide permitted development rights for specified types of development in defined locations.

Community Right to Build Orders were introduced by the Localism Act 2011 and are a particular type of neighbourhood development order, it allows people to propose a development in their local area and obtain permission for it, without having to go through a lengthy and cumbersome planning process.
[3] UK Offshore Wind reaches new record high and is on track to generate enough electricity to meet the needs of nearly half of UK homes.

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