Locals to get veto over wind farms

Tim Shipman, Political Editor, Sunday Times, 17 May 2015

LOCAL residents will be able to block all future onshore wind farms under new measures to be fast-tracked into law, the new energy secretary has announced.

Amber Rudd revealed she had “put a rocket” under her officials to “put the local community back in charge” of their own neighbourhoods.

In an interview with The Sunday Times she also said the Tory government would kick-start a shale gas revolution and loosen rules so it could be extracted from under national parks.

No subsidies will be paid to operators of new onshore wind turbines under legislation to be included in the Queen's speech. The legislation, which Rudd is “hopeful” will be law by the middle of next year, will ensure that consent for new wind farms will have to be given by a local council planning authority, which will be duty-bound to consult residents. Under current planning rules, big onshore wind farms are handled by a central government national infrastructure body that can ignore the wishes of local people.

Rudd said: “It will mean no more onshore wind farm subsidies and no more onshore wind farms without local community support.

“This is really important. I've already got my team working on it. That's going to be one of the first things we're going to do. I've put a rocket under the team to get it done, putting the local community back in charge. We're looking to do the primary legislation as soon as we can. Local planning authorities combined with no new subsidies will put local people in charge . . . there will be a much more accountable democratic process.”

The 4,000 existing onshore wind turbines produce power for 4m homes. They will remain and 3,000 more with planning permission will be completed, providing power to an extra 3m homes by 2020.

Rudd said she did not personally “think they're an eyesore at all. I personally quite enjoy seeing them.” But she added: “We can't have them on a scale in areas where people don't want them.”

She added: “We can't aim for having the perfect green community while irritating and upsetting local communities.”

Rudd was a beneficiary of the departure from the government of the Liberal Democrats, who used to run her department. She said the main difference now that there was a Conservative majority would be to press ahead with shale gas extraction.

Rudd said that while her predecessor, Ed Davey, “was committed to shale”, he “struggled to bring some members of his party with him. Quite a number of them appeared to be completely anti-shale. With a Conservative majority I believe we'll be able to deliver shale, as we've always wanted to do, in a safe but beneficial way.”

She said the government would pass secondary legislation that would allow shale gas extraction under national parks, though drilling will remain banned, meaning the wells would have to be outside areas of groundwater and outstanding natural beauty.

Rudd suggested the government would look again at the compensation for communities affected by fracking, which are currently expected to get an average of £800,000 for each well. “We're determined to get as much as we can out for the local community,” she said. “They have to see there's a good reward in it for them.”

Rudd also backed nuclear power, declaring it “good for clean energy”. And she announced plans to press the big six household energy firms to do more to “keep bills low”.

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Page Updated 29-May-2015