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Analysis: Pickles deals new blow to wind farm developers

Words: Huw Morris
Eric Pickles

It was a move that made the blood of many working in the renewables industry run cold.

Last October, communities secretary Eric Pickles announced that he would call in renewable schemes for a six-month period. Then last month he quietly extended his period for calling in decisions for a further 12 months. So far, 35 onshore wind schemes have been called in.
But now a new obstacle has emerged.
Pickles had previously limited his interventions to deciding appeals. Now he is intervening in planning committee approvals of wind farm schemes.
In February, South Lakeland District Council's planning committee backed a proposal by developer Banks Renewables by seven votes to three for the three-turbine Killington wind farm at a site next to junction 37 of the M6 motorway. Pickles has since called in the scheme because it might lead to “substantial cross-boundary controversy” and conflict with national policies.

"Pickles’ intervention has led to further delays for developers, a couple of project withdrawals, and a court case."

Banks Renewables is outraged at the move and cites an extensive public engagement exercise around the scheme in the past two years which attracted more than 1,400 letters of support to the council. Chief among the benefits the scheme would bring is a fixed wireless system capable of bringing fast broadband to the area for the first time, a move specifically developed by Banks in response to the priorities expressed by local people.
“The National Planning Policy Framework puts particular emphasis on decision-making being focused at a local level,” says development director Phil Dyke. “Having a clear mandate from a local council called in for review at a national government level in this way shows that this principle is not being realised in practice.”
Wind farms: in figures
93 percentage of wind capacity at appeal in England
325.6 megawatts of electricity schemes at appeal could generate
176,000 homes that could be supplied with electricity by schemes currently at appeal 

RenewableUK, which represents the wind and marine energy industry, is a bitter opponent of Pickles’ move.

Deputy chief executive Maf Smith 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.
“Pickles’ intervention has led to further delays for developers, a couple of project withdrawals, and a court case. The fact that many of the projects he has called in still haven’t had decisions shows that he’s got more than enough on his plate without adding to it, and disrupting more projects. Now is the time to let the planning system do its job – not to throw further confusion and delay into it with these anti-localism measures.”