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What do the new NPPF changes mean for landowners, promoters, and developers?

In response to pressure from the back benches, last week the Government published an updated version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), with the changes made focused on onshore wind. 

11 September 2023 | 3 min read
Jacob Bonehill

UK

They have been presented by the Government as a move to encourage onshore wind development across England. However, while welcomed in some quarters they have also been criticised as not going far enough by various environmental groups.

What are the changes?

The changes amend paragraphs 155 and 158 of the NPPF and associated footnotes, which relate to renewable energy development.

The most substantial change is that impacts of onshore wind developments now have to be addressed ‘appropriately’, whereas before they were required to address such impacts ‘fully’. This represents a softening of the position and indicates a less onerous test for such proposals.

The changes also now allow for sites to be identified for wind developments through Supplementary Planning Documents. This is a positive change, allowing supportive Local Planning Authorities to allocate suitable sites through a much quicker process. Previously this was done via the preparation of a Development Planning Document which required multiple rounds of consultation and a formal Examination in Public.

In principle, this could reduce the timescale for selecting appropriate locations from years to months. 

The amendments also mean that developments for onshore wind now have to show ‘community support’. This is a shift from the previous requirement to show they had ‘the backing of the community’. While on paper this doesn’t appear to mean much, the Government has indicated they will be publishing new guidance on how applicants can demonstrate this support later this year.  

Over the last eight years, ‘the backing of the community’ has been interpreted to mean applications should be refused if there's even a single objection from a local resident, leading to a virtual moratorium for onshore wind developments. Until further guidance is published, whether this is a positive step remains to be seen.

What does this mean for landowners, promoters, and developers?

Given the limited number of Council’s that have identified sites for onshore wind development, the biggest change for the majority who are looking to promote onshore wind will be the option for Local Planning Authorities to identify suitable sites through a Supplementary Planning Document. Many Councils have announced a Climate Emergency, and some may now be willing to allocate locations for onshore wind through this new route. Conversations with either Planning Policy Teams or lead Councillors responsible for Planning, Climate Change, or Sustainability will assist with identifying where a Council may be receptive to exploring such an approach.

It will be important for promoters and Councils to ensure that appropriate consideration has been given to the full range of potential impacts on factors such as landscape and the environment. By the time such work has been undertaken, it's likely there will be greater certainty on what is required to demonstrate community support.

As it stands, due to the lack of certainty on what's required to demonstrate community support, it's not yet clear whether the changes will have any immediate effect on the determination of planning applications for onshore wind.