Wind Turbine Planning Permission: The Ultimate Guide
|Topic: New wind farm projects||Read Time: 16 mins|
| Landowner type:
Independent landowners | Institutional landowners | Professional advisers | Site Operator
|Energy: Onshore wind|
Are you looking for an in-depth guide on wind turbine planning permission in the UK? From an interesting historical overview to a detailed rundown of current requirements and restrictions, we’ll cover it all with this ultimate guide.
Throughout our time in the renewables sector, we’ve received an abundance of queries about planning permission. And that’s largely because the UK’s planning process can be confusing, drawn out, and inaccessible. So, we decided to take action.
We’ve put together a guide to completely demystify everything about wind turbine planning permission. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a landowner, project developer, or even a professional advisor. You should find something of value in this guide to make wind turbine planning permission seem easier to understand. To get the lay of the land, we started kitting out this go-to guide by consulting various sources. And that includes wind energy expert Dr. Rebecca Windermer (who we’ll reference throughout this piece).
But to make sure we have the latest information available, we even carried out our own research that’s 100% up-to-date. That’s right, our rundown on local authorities and their planning guidance is the most current information available on the topic. Now, we understand that planning rules can change over time (and completely change the scope of an application as a result).
To keep you abreast of the latest developments regarding wind turbine planning permission in the UK, as soon as we hear of any meaningful developments in the sector, we’ll update this article. So, be sure to sign up for our newsletter and bookmark this page – in this changing market, you’ll probably need to revisit it.
What Is Wind Turbine Planning Permission?
In its most basic terms, wind turbine planning permission refers to:
“The approval given by the local authority under the power given to it by the 1948 Town and Country Planning Act to allow the building of, or changes to, a building.”
This responsibility is usually allocated to Local Planning Authorities by Parliament. So, these authorities are the first port of call for seeking planning permission or asking relevant queries about new projects. Just so you’re aware, undertaking any commercial wind turbine project means that you’ll need to have planning permission as they’re extensive developments. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Why Do I Need Wind Turbine Planning Permission?
Planning permission exists to make sure developments to properties are in line with local planning regulations. And, according to the Government, the main reason for planning permission is to:
- Ensure that [projects or housing] are built in a way that does not have a negative impact on the local community.
And this is where most of the pushback against wind turbines tends to come from – local communities and local authorities. And as these authorities are essentially in charge of approving planning applications, this can be problematic. Although opinions on wind turbines have improved over the years, getting planning permission for new projects is still incredibly difficult. If you’re wondering why that is, let’s dig deeper into current planning permission regulations.
Why Is Planning Permission So Hard to Get?
Planning permission isn’t difficult to get everywhere in the UK, but there’s still a lot of red tape around. This is particularly true in England, where only 16 new wind farm projects were built between 2016-2022. If we consider that 435 wind farms were built between 2011 and 2015, this marks a 96% decrease overall.
This decrease is almost entirely down to a policy change put in place in 2015 under David Cameron’s leadership.
We’ll cover this in more detail later on, but this policy change for onshore wind in ENGLAND (this distinction is important to make) noted that:
- A wind farm must be located in an area that has been identified as suitable for wind energy in a local or neighbourhood plan
- That the planning impacts identified by the affected local community [must] have been fully addressed. The proposal must also have their backing.
It’s also worth noting that our 2023 research of 254 local authorities shows that just 20.8% of local authorities have currently identified suitable sites for wind development.
And as any change takes time, it’s unlikely that further suitable sites will be bookmarked anytime soon.
A Brief History of Planning Permission in the UK
The birth of planning permission
The UK’s main town and country planning rules emerged after the Second World War. At this time, it was largely a result of industrialisation and the rise of mass infrastructure. Of course, there have been degrees of planning permission present in the UK before this.
And these came in the form of 4 different acts:
- The Housing and Town Planning Act 1909
- The Housing and Town Planning Act 1919
- The Town Planning Act 1925
- The Town and Country Planning Act 1932
The 1909 act marked the essential birth of town planning and prevented the building of “back-to-back” houses. The act also meant that local authorities needed to build homes to a certain standard. With the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919, the government helped subsidise an impressive 500,000 houses within 3 years. Although only 213,000 were eventually completed, this impressive planning act marked a strong movement towards grants for local authorities.
The Town Planning Act of 1925 was an act that aimed to consolidate current planning laws in England and Wales. This act gave local authorities greater power to prepare or adopt town planning schemes in favour of the community. Finally, the Town and Country Planning Act 1932 considerably extended the power of local authorities regarding planning schemes. Not only could they construct underground shelters for civil defence without much resistance, but it was designed to protect “objects of interest or beauty.” This act formed the building blocks of many modern planning permission guidelines that protect listed areas and Green Belt land.
Enter: The Town and Country Planning Act of 1947
As we briefly mentioned at the beginning of this section, planning permission in the UK hugely changed in 1947. This was when the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 came to fruition (which was made law from 1 July 1948). This marked a point where any new development would require planning permission. Overall, it was designed to outline procedures that would control “urban sprawl into the countryside.”
So, it aimed to stop industry and development from overrunning rural areas. This act put planning permission into the hands of local authorities and nationalised land development rights. Another crucial point here was that ownership of land no longer meant that you were allowed to develop it. This was the beginning of modern planning permission guidelines as we now know them.
Lifting the Burden 1985
By the 1980s, planning began to be seen as a barrier to growth in the UK. This was famously outlined by John Moore in the 1985 speech and white paper “Lifting the Burden”. The paper called for the “Government to assess proposed and existing regulations from the point of view of the burden they may impose on business.” This impassioned speech led to a record level of successful appeals against local planning policy.
Off the back of this development, the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and Planning and Compensation Act 1991 were introduced. This outlined that a local authority’s development plan should be a ‘significant factor’ in what might be permitted. This replaced the 1947 act and divided planning into “forward planning” and “development control”.
The Localism Act 2011 + Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013
A major planning development for the 21st century was The Localism Act 2011. This abolished regional planning and introduced neighbourhood planning. Following this act, the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 was brought in. This allowed developers to submit planning applications for major developments (like wind turbines) directly to the Planning Inspectorate. The 2013 act was particularly useful in areas where local planning authorities were incredibly slow to act.
David Cameron’s actions in 2015
The most recent major development to wind turbine planning permission in the UK came in 2015. For context, around 100 Conservative MPs stated that onshore wind farms were ruining the visual effect of the landscape. There were also arguments stating that wildlife was being heavily impacted. Arguing that the public was “fed up” with onshore wind, David Cameron pushed for (and achieved) changes to planning permission for turbines. By altering simple wording in planning permission regulations, he created an essential moratorium on wind turbines in the UK.
Potential change to de facto wind farm ban in September 2023
There’s a small glimmer of hope with Rishi Sunak announcing a potential rollback of current policy as of September 2023. Planning policy has changed slightly as a result to state that concerns from the local community should now be “appropriately” addressed. This is a change from concerns needing to be “fully” addressed previously. Also called the “Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill 2022-23”, these changes aim to put onshore wind on a level playing field with other energy developments. As of October 26, 2023, this Bill is now an Act of Parliament (law).
What about permitted development?
Although there were some allowances for “permitted development”, these developments would need to meet strict criteria. These permitted developments often apply to housing extensions and conversions. So, very few wind turbines would fall under permitted development in the UK. The only time when this would apply was to a single domestic turbine (and strict conditions would need to be met. We’ll get to this in more detail in just a minute, so don’t worry.
Current Wind Turbine Planning Permission Across the UK (Updated for 2023)
Wind turbine planning permission in England is the most complicated, as there are several restrictions. While it used to be far easier to get planning permission in England, the new policy updates from 2015 changed the game.
As a result, commercial turbines are quite difficult to green-light in several parts of the country. And this is largely down to the fact that local authorities simply haven’t specified suitable sites for wind energy.
Like Scotland, Wales is far more supportive of onshore wind than England. According to Dr. Rebecca Windermer’s in-depth research, the current wind turbine planning permission document for Wales has allocated 8 broad spatial areas for wind development. With these broad areas comes a great degree of certainty, showing just how supportive the planning policy is. As of 2023, there are an impressive 44 operational wind farms in Wales.
Now, there’s still a way to go with wind power in this part of the country. But the lack of planning restrictions in this part of the UK makes new projects far easier to build than in England.
When it comes to getting wind turbine planning permission in the UK, heading to Scotland is your best bet. Scotland’s general climate policy is far kinder to onshore wind than other parts of the country. In fact, Scotland even has an Onshore Wind Quality Statement that makes sure the wind turbine planning process is fit for purpose.
It’s also worth mentioning that Scottish policymakers understand that wind farms may have longer lifespans than 25 years. For that reason, Scotland can easily give longer consent periods. In turn, this offers more certainty for projects and encourages new planning applications. If you’re wondering why Scotland’s approach is so different from England’s, it’s largely down to politics.
As we mentioned before, England’s planning restrictions were introduced because of 100 Conservative MPs. And Scotland simply has.
What About Domestic Wind Turbine Planning Permission?
The main domestic turbines you’ll find in the UK are building-mounted and pole-mounted. Both options tend to be popular with households, as they can effectively reduce electricity bills by around £350 a year. It’s not always necessary to seek planning permission for domestic wind turbines, but they need to meet strict guidelines.
In England, wind turbines can be classed as permitted development if:
- There are no other wind turbines in the area or an air source heat pump currently on the property
- The bottom of the turbine’s blades is at least 5 metres from the ground
- The turbine isn’t in a conservation area, World Heritage site, or on the grounds of a listed building
In Scotland, planning permission won’t be required if:
- The wind turbine is the only one on the property
- The turbine is more than 100 metres from another property’s boundaries
- The turbine isn’t located in a conservation area, World Heritage site, or on the grounds of a listed building
In Wales and Northern Ireland, you’ll need planning permission for any wind turbine (domestic or not). So, for installations in this part of the country, you’ll always need to fill out a planning application.
The Planning Process (and How to Improve the Chances of Getting Permission)
It might sound obvious, but understanding the wind turbine planning permission process is crucial. If you understand the different stages, you’ll be far better placed to jump through the necessary hoops.
What is the planning permission process?
1: Screening and consultation stage
At this stage of the game, the relevant Local Planning Authority (LPA) should be consulted. They’ll advise on whether a developer needs to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and whether the area in question is suitable for wind development. If it’s not suitable, there’s not much point in pursuing the project further as the Local Authority simply won’t grant planning permission.
If turbines can be built on the land, developers will need to uncover potential issues with the land that may prevent approval. This can be anything from wildlife concerns to friction with the local community. If a project is vetoed by the local community or developers can’t address their concerns, the local authority is unlikely to approve the project.
2: Application surveys and submission stage
If an application passes stage one, developers need to consider a planning design and start working with any relevant stakeholders. After all, a project will need financing to get off the ground. At this stage, bird surveys are often carried out along with any relevant cultural heritage and soil assessments. This is meant to show that any turbines placed on the land won’t adversely affect local wildlife or the local environment. For non-planning-experts, this is also the time to run statements and designs past relevant experts. For all applications in England, a community consultation needs to be completed by this stage. This is where the application will be presented to the community, and any concerns will be raised and recorded.
3: Application management stage
Next up is the application management stage, where relevant parties on the project meet with a dedicated Planning Officer. This is the last opportunity to provide the local authority with the information they’ll need to make a decision. If possible, it’s worth getting written statements from the community to try and reduce the chance of rejection.
4: Post-consent and potential appeals stage
If a planning application is approved at this stage, the developer is free to start the construction process. But if it’s rejected, they’ll either need to abandon the project or bring it to the appeals stage. Appeals can take up to 18 months to complete, depending on the part of the country. So, relevant parties will need to remain patient as they wait for the local authority to review the appeal and make a decision. At this stage, planning experts can really come in handy to guide an appeal.
Just how many wind farms go all the way to construction?
As of a study carried out in October 2022, it was found that wind farm developments* can be classified under different stages of the planning permission cycle.
*Note here, the term ‘development’ is used for operational, decommissioned and planned but not yet built wind farms.
As of October 2022, out of a total of 2297 wind farm developments across the country:
- 705 were operational
- 28 were under construction
- 1 required no planning application
If we look at the total number of wind farms operational or under construction in the UK, it makes up only 32% of all developments in the planning permission cycle. We also thought it was worth mentioning that 269 wind farm developments had withdrawn their planning applications during the process. The rest of the wind farm developments, 66% are in a grey area of the planning permission cycle.
As you can see, wind farms in the UK are at several different stages of development at any point.
Figure out which local authorities have identified suitable areas for wind development
As of 2023, there are currently 32 local authorities that have onshore wind policies. Of these 32 local authorities, 21 include a map identifying suitable sites. Although the ratio is still significantly off where we need it to be for environmental progress, it’s something.
So, if you’re looking for secure options for suitable wind sites, the following local authorities are good places to start.
Which Local Authorities Are Most Welcoming to Wind Farms?
- Cheshire East
- Cheshire West and Chester
- County Durham
- East Lindsey
- Exmoor National Park
- Lake District National Park
- North East Lincolnshire
- North West Leicestershire
- North York Moors National Park
- Redcar and Cleveland
- Windsor and Maidenhead
- Blackburn with Darwen
- East Devon
- Mid Sussex
- North Norfolk
- South Tyneside
- South East Lincolnshire
- Great Yarmouth
- Mid Devon
The reasons given for refusing to allocate sites ranged from a lack of natural resources to a supposed lack of proposals. For obvious reasons, we recommend starting with local authorities who have previously green-lit projects. You’re far more likely to get planning permission near areas with wind turbines on them already. So, it’s a great idea to start there.
Think about repowering
This may not apply to you if you’re not already dealing with a wind farm project on your land. However, repowered sites don’t need to abide by current wind turbine planning permission guidelines. This makes it a far easier option to think about than starting an entirely new wind farm.
We’ll mention here that most onshore wind farms receive 25-year planning permission. But the majority of sites tend to repower at the 15–20-year mark, which also involves a renegotiation of the current land lease. You do technically need to reapply for planning permission if you’re repowering a site (and there’s still a lot of red tape). However, the hurdles are much lower, and an existing project is far more likely to get reapproved over a new project.
What about community energy organisations?
As we briefly discussed, community energy organisations (or neighbourhood plans) are slightly tricky. Much of the planning authority for onshore turbines is being delegated to these community energy organisations. But as these neighbourhood plans don’t receive much support from local authorities, getting planning permission is usually stalled. It’s also worth mentioning that many of the representatives from these organisations don’t necessarily want turbines in the local area. For that reason alone, trying to drive through any new policy can be extremely difficult.
How Long Can It Take to Get Wind Turbine Planning Permission?
From our most recent research, we’ve found that getting a wind farm from the initial planning application to planning completion takes an average of 3.8 years. The longest period we’ve seen is 15 years, and the shortest is 0.25 years (3.9 months). Typically, short stretches from the application submission stage to the operational wind farm stage happen only when local authorities are supportive of wind power.
How Much Does Planning Permission Cost?
Although it’s almost impossible to give an exact answer to this question, getting planning permission for large turbines can be extremely expensive. For a comprehensive assessment with surveys and application fees, this can be upwards of £60,000. It’s also worth noting that planning permission applications can vary based on area and council. So, figures can vary significantly from place to place. But when you add this to the average cost of a wind turbine, it’s certainly an expensive venture.
What Problems Can Landowners and Developers Face with Wind Farm Planning Permission?
The main issues that landowners and developers face with wind turbine planning permission are:
- Interference from local committee members
- The sheer strictness of current policy criteria
We’ve briefly discussed these points already, but it’s worth mentioning that getting planning permission can be quite arbitrary. And that’s because many committee members simply don’t want wind turbines on local land. Part of this is down to the fact that they don’t see it being beneficial to the local community. But a lot of it is down to personal preference and the belief that these structures may devalue local land.
As we stated earlier, we also can’t understate how much current policy criteria restrict new developments. Both wind turbine planning permission notes must be met. And for this reason, new projects often can’t get approval.
What Can Be Done About Improving Wind Turbine Planning Permission in the UK?
In short, not a lot unless planning permission considerations become more lenient. Not only do local authorities just not have the capacity to handle what’s being asked of them, but they have significant resource constraints. It’s also worth mentioning that onshore wind just isn’t a major priority for these authorities. Even where authorities are attempting change, any policy adjustments can take a lot of time to materialise. So, any positive impacts from these changes won’t be felt or actualized for several years.
Many local authorities are also prioritising a potential neighbourhood plan allocation route which may change how sites are assessed. But until these changes come to pass, turbines simply won’t be green-lit. Equally, many adopted neighbourhood plans have also returned no sites that are suitable for wind energy. Even those that played with the idea stated that there was a lack of suitability for onshore wind in the local area. Plus, 97 local authorities have stated that they have provided no support to neighbourhood planning groups.
Well, it’s no surprise that movement toward new onshore wind projects has been incredibly slow. Without significant policy changes, we simply won’t meet our environmental obligations.
Our Final Thoughts on Wind Turbine Planning Permission
In our opinion, the government needs to revise or reverse current planning policy to meet net-zero limits. Instead of local authorities allocating sites, they should review potential wind farm locations on a case-by-case basis. We’re not saying that community input on potential projects isn’t important. But we don’t think that the local community should be the only consideration when it comes to building a wind project.
To boost what the current policy can offer, planning authorities should give greater support to the neighbourhood plans. To help local authorities work through applications, improved funding at the government level could also be highly beneficial. Whatever the approach, it’s clear that the government needs to seriously reconsider wind turbine planning permission in the UK. Otherwise, we simply won’t be able to meet our climate obligations in the coming years.
If you want to learn more about planning permission in the UK (or are struggling to get it), get in touch. Our expert team is well-versed in the ups and downs of wind turbine planning permission, and we’ll happily guide you through it.