Onshore Wind Development Process

All wind developments in the UK have to apply for planning permission and/or consent. For all onshore energy projects in Great Britain over 50 MW in capacity, and those over 1 MW offshore, planning consent is not provided by the local planning authority, but is dealt with by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) (for England and Wales) or the Scottish Executive (for Scotland) under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 19891.

All other projects are dealt with by the local planning authority.

For larger wind power projects (usually those over 5 MW), the wind developer is legally required to produce an independent Environmental Impact Assessment which should investigate specific concerns such as landscape, noise and wildlife effects.

The results of the EIA are published in an Environmental Statement (ES), which is a publicly available document that will be used in the consents process. It is accompanied by a non-technical summary, which should be written in an accessible way and be available free of charge, usually from the developer.

Local planning decisions for wind power projects under 50 MW, the developer will need to apply for planning permission from the local planning authority (LPA). In England, planning is usually the responsibility of district councils, except in areas with single-tier authorities. In Scotland and Wales, planning permission is dealt with by single-tier authorities.

In most cases, planning applications will firstly be considered by LPA officers, who will check that proposed wind farm developments are in line with national, regional and local planning policies, before considering the Environmental Statement from the developers and the responses to the public consultation. They will then make a recommendation to the planning committee, which is composed of local councillors who willmake the final decision. If the planning application is rejected the developer may take their case to the relevant appeal body, which has the power to overrule the original decision if it considers that it:

  1. was a significant departure from national, regional or local planning policy,
  2. did not fairly assess the balance of national or local environmental, social or economic considerations.

A developer is also entitled to go to appeal following non-determination after the statutory period of eight weeks, or 16 weeks for applications where an EIA has been carried out.

There are currently three appeal bodies depending on the jurisdiction of the original decision: The Planning Inspectorate (with responsibility for England and Wales), the Scottish Executive Inquiry Reporters Unit, and the Northern Ireland Planning Appeals Commission. These report directly to their respective national governments. The appeal body may request written or informal representation, or it may decide to open a public inquiry - the latter option is often taken for more controversial or complicated wind farm proposals.

Finally, the Secretary of State with responsibility for local government and planning issues (for projects in England, Wales and Northern Ireland), and the Scottish Executive (for projects in Scotland), have the power to 'call in' planning applications for a decision to be taken centrally through a variety of means. For example, schemes may be 'called in' if they raise issues of national importance or are a significant departure from the structure plan or national planning policy. In general, this power is used with caution.

National consents process

Onshore wind farm projects over 50 MW in size are automatically dealt with by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change  (in England and Wales) or the Scottish Executive (in Scotland). This process comes under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 and requires DECC or Scottish Executive to consider all the arguments for and against the proposed development before awarding consent. A local public inquiry may be held. Deemed planning permission will usually be awarded at the same time under Section 90 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

The Electricity Act 1989 only applies to the Renewable Energy Zone adjacent to Northern Ireland's territorial waters; it does not cover onshore or territorial water areas.

Information based on the Sustainable Development Committee's report (June 2005), Chapter 5, Wind Power and Planning.