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Extending powers to ‘pull’ renewable projects a ‘costly mistake’

Plans to extend the communities secretary’s powers to “pull” renewable energy projects for a further 12 months have been branded a “costly mistake” by RenewableUK. 

The secretary of state had announced in October 2013 that he would recover more renewable energy projects in England for a six month period, so he could determine how new planning guidance was being implemented. 

Yesterday, Pickles said: “After careful consideration I have decided to extend the temporary change to the appeals recovery criteria and continue to consider for recovery appeals for renewable energy developments for a further 12 months.” 

So far, using recovery powers, Pickles has pulled in 33 wind projects, made up of a mix of individual turbines or larger projects, comprising 93% of all wind energy capacity currently at appeal in England. 

On top of this, two local authorities have been blocked from giving consent to three onshore wind projects, with the secretary of state having removed, or having threatened to remove, their powers of decision making. 

Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of RenewableUK, said: “Telling local authorities that they can’t decide on wind applications runs counter to the principles of the Localism Act, and introducing more delays is anti-business. The extension is a costly mistake for the UK. 

“I expect the official planning bodies for this country will be up in arms that the planning system is being subjugated to political whim in this way.” 

The secretary of state’s original justification for his decision to pull in these projects was that he wanted to see how his new guidance was being applied. Having done that, he said: “Since the guidance, more appeals have been dismissed than approved for more significant turbines. Every case should, of course, be considered on its individual merits in light of local circumstances and the material planning considerations. 

“I am encouraged by the impact the guidance is having but do appreciate the continuing concerns in communities. I also recognise that the guidance is still relatively new and some development proposals may not yet have fully taken on board its clear intent.” 

Pickles added that for the “avoidance of doubt”, this does not mean that all renewable energy appeals will be recovered, but that planning ministers may recover a number of appeals. 

So far, however, of the 33 projects pulled in by the secretary of state, decisions have been reached on eight projects, with all but one refused. Two of the projects to have been turned down by Pickles had previously been recommended for approval by the Planning Inspectorate, a non-executive agency of the Department for Communities and Local Government. One of these decisions is currently under judicial review.

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