Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, has announced that he will be expanding his own powers to call-in and decide planning decisions on renewable energy projects for a further 12 months — essentially right up until the election.
The announcement means that he can personally take the final decision to consent or refuse all onshore wind farms in England. Mr Pickles’ statement says:
“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. Therefore 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. This criterion is added to the recovery policy issued on 30 June 2008.”
As part of Mr Pickles initial six month trial of reviewing planning decisions, Ecotricity had a four turbine windfarm proposal in Somerset rejected by the Communities Secretary in late February, despite the Planning Inspector recommending the proposal for approval after a planning enquiry.
Somerset currently has just a single wind turbine in the whole of the county.
Dale Vince, Ecotricity founder, said: “This decision by Mr Pickles is anti-wind posturing, as all his interventions in the planning process have been so far, and par for the course from this Government.
“Only last month Mr Pickles ignored all expert advice to reject Ecotricity’s onshore wind proposal at Black Ditch in Somerset after several years of environmental assessments, and after both the Council’s Planning Officer and the Planning Inspector himself recommended the site for approval.
“We’ve worked diligently through the entire planning process, passed every test, including a public enquiry — only to have our application refused by a man that knows nothing on the subject. What faith can anyone have in the planning process when this can happen, when the rules are thrown out of the window on a whim?”
Ecotricity has launched an appeal to the High Court against the decision by the Secretary of State.
The wind park of just four turbines could produce enough green electricity to power the equivalent of around 7,000 homes every year, saving around nine and half thousand tonnes of CO₂ being pumped into the atmosphere.
Dale Vince continued: “At Ecotricity we generate around a third of our customers’ electricity needs from our own onshore windfarms, which protects our customers from the fluctuating fossil fuel market, and has allowed us to freeze energy bills for 21 months – the longest price freeze in the energy industry.
“It’s a model that works for Ecotricity, it works for our customers, and it’s a model that would work for Britain by promoting energy independence – because the price of wind doesn’t go up.”