Planning Process

Like most other structures or buildings wind turbines normally require planning permission from the local planning authority (LPA). Before a planning application is submitted, in order to comply with the 1999 Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, an agreement has to be reached between the LPA and the wind energy developer as to whether or not the planning application needs to be accompanied by an Environmental Statement.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

The Environmental Statement is the result of an established Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process which is a way of identifying, drawing together and assessing in a systematic way the likely significant environmental effects which may occur as a result of the construction, operation and decommissioning of the development.

In order to reach agreement on whether an Environmental Statement is required, the developer submits a document called a Request for a Screening Opinion to the LPA in which the proposed development is outlined, together with reasons why the developer considers an EIA is or is not required. The LPA then has three weeks to issue a screening opinion setting out whether the development is classified as an EIA development, as set out in the 1999 Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations.

What studies need to be carried out?

The next stage in the planning process is for the developer to submit to the LPA a Request for a Scoping Opinion. This document seeks the LPA’s view on which environmental issues should be studied in detail by the developer and be included in the Environmental Statement to accompany the eventual planning application. An Environmental Statement is usually required for most commercial-scale wind energy developments.

The LPA has five weeks to consult a wide range of statutory bodies. Once issued the developer has a clear understanding of what issues need to be addressed and studied in the Environmental Impact Assessment before the planning application is submitted.

In addition to the formal scoping process, liaison and dialogue normally occurs between the developer and statutory consultees throughout the development process.

Typically it takes 12 to 24 months for the developer to complete all the environmental studies needed for the Environmental Statement. Even if the Screening Opinion found that an EIA is not required for the turbines, a planning application would still be accompanied by an Environmental Report, assessing a range of possible effects from the development.

Planning application

Once the planning application has been submitted, the LPA normally tries to take a decision within 16 weeks, during which time the application is sent out to consultation to a wide range of statutory and non-statutory consultees and assessed against local, regional and national planning policy.

The planning officer prepares a report and makes a recommendation to the elected councillors on the planning committee as to whether the application should be approved or refused. Once councillors have taken a decision, a decision notice is issued by the LPA.

If the application is approved, the planning permission will be accompanied by a range of planning conditions with which the developer of the site will need to comply. These conditions typically require, for example, that the turbines are removed after 25 years and that any noise from the turbines is strictly limited to levels set by the Government.

If, however, the application is refused the developer has six months to decide whether or not to appeal against the decision of the council and have the application determined by an independent planning inspector. The appeals process adds significant costs and delays to the development of a site and is normally only undertaken in exceptional circumstances

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