Oi Pickles!… Hands off

The latest edition of Planning Resource has just dropped through the door and the cover story reads

Fifty onshore wind turbines derailed by Pickles interventions in 2014.

For those unaware of the turmoil in the planning system at the moment it goes something like this… once upon a time Mr Cameron was very much in favour of wind turbines and even tried to put one on his house.

Then he got into Government and found his shire MPs have a major dislike for wind turbines which rather de-railed his Greenest Government Ever mantra. Worse still, they were proving quite popular with the planning inspectorate who appeared to be overturning too many local council refusals. In 2014 Cameron was reported to have been heard to have thought about thinking on declaring a War on Wind – although you won’t actually find a quote from him anywhere.

Faced with not being able to tear up existing subsidies for onhore wind he did the next best thing and got his mate Mr Pickles to start interfering with planning application and appeals via a process called Recovery. Where any planning application decision has been refused and the applicant has appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, the decision of the inspector is normally final provided the loosing side doesn’t choose to fight it out in the High Court. Recovery allows Mr Pickles to over-rule the decisions of the inspectors.

Planning inspectors are highly skilled practitioners of local and national policy who visit the site, consider all the angles and make a reasoned judgement. Mr Pickles is a politician. Wonder knows more about planning?

The motivation is clear – to destroy investor confidence in UK on-shore wind. By turning the lottery of planning into a loaded card game where he has a sleeve full of aces.

Yana Bosseva, planning advisor to Renewable UK (the UK renewables industry group) said Pickles actions were sending a “shockwave through the industry” and with 80% of appeals being recovered it “wasn’t leaving much to planning professionals“.

Others in the industry have described Mr Pickles antics as “perverse“, “murky” and “dangerous“.

The truth is that the planning system for wind energy is now totally politicised. Planning policy barely enters into it. Now you could read this as wind turbine developers having a whinge and a whine about lack of success.. but consider this – Sooner or later a raft of planning applications for fracking will hit the appeal system.

We’ve seen how fond the Tories are of fracking and so it seems self evident that Mr Pickles will use his new super-planning-powers to ensure these developments go ahead.

Like many environmentalists and others in the renewables industry we are therefore hoping for a change in Government later this year.