Rural Britain forced to accept solar farms and wind turbines in planning revolution

The time it takes to approve an offshore wind farm will also be reduced from four years to one year, including by setting up a fast-track consenting route.

Listed buildings will be able to install heat pumps – a green alternative to gas boilers – and energy-saving double glazing more easily.

National Policy Statements, which help the Secretary of State decide on nationally significant infrastructure applications and can also affect local planning decisions, will be strengthened to “reflect the importance of energy and net zero”.

Environmental “compensation” measures will be introduced to cut delays to offshore wind projects by allowing developers to offset, rather than eliminate, environmental effects such as danger to wildlife, while approvals for oil and gas projects will also be sped up. 

The changes to planning rules are key to speeding up energy projects but risk sparking tensions with local communities and Tory MPs.

Several backbenchers have already raised concerns about the potential five-fold increase in solar panels, while a major offshore wind farm development was recently temporarily halted by a judicial review from a local campaigner. 

Rebecca Windemer, a lecturer at University of the West of England, Bristol said: “When the Government is working out how to speed up our planning system, they need to make sure there is really early community engagement.”

Katie-Jo Luxton of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: “We are already seeing the dangers of taking the quickest option with developers and planners overlooking the potential damage to wildlife and destruction of wild spaces on land and at sea.

“Yet again the Government has again dodged committing to a coherent spatial plan to map out both energy reduction and clean energy protection.”

It comes as the Government seeks to encourage deployment of onshore wind plants nearby by cutting bills for people living nearby – a step deemed “retrograde” by some campaigners. 

Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at the CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Subsidised energy bills for communities living near solar or wind farms are a regressive step – good proposals don’t need them. Any suggestion communities are being bribed to accept an otherwise unsuitable development could seriously damage trust in the planning system.”

Bob Blackman, Conservative MP for Harrow East and a member of the local government select committee, said he thought it unlikely communities would buy into it and relaxing planning rules was a potential source of conflict. 

“We need to see the devil in the detail and what local people can consent to.” 

John Hayes, the former energy secretary and Tory MP for South Holland and The Deepings in Lincolnshire, said the Government’s strategy was “welcome in its focus on how we can supply our energy independently” but added: “Apart from people with an electoral death wish I can’t imagine many people supporting industrial wind farms spoiling our green and pleasant land.”

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