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England

England

Analysis - UK buffer zone row grows

UK: A growing trend for English councils to introduce buffer zones between wind turbines and homes looks set to continue after a test case at the High Court between RWE Npower and Milton Keynes Council.

The High Court of England and Wales... councils can set minimum distances
The High Court of England and Wales... councils can set minimum distances

The judge quashed the council’s policy stipulating a minimum distance of 1,217 metres between a 125-metre-high wind turbine and the nearest home.

If the council’s policy had been implemented, it would have automatically ruled out RWE’s proposed 24MW Nun Wood and 15MW Orchard Way wind farms. RWE argued that this was against national renewable energy policy.

The wind industry claimed the ruling as a victory. However, the judge’s decision was based on a technicality as the proposed policy conflicted with an existing policy stipulating a separation distance of 350 metres.

Crucially, the judge also ruled that such policies are not necessarily in breach of national renewable energy policy, depending on how the policy was worded.

A council cannot have a negative policy that states that planning permission will be refused if turbines are within a certain distance from a home. However, they can have a positive policy that states that planning permission will be granted if turbines are more than a certain distance from a home, the judgement says.

Paul Maile, partner at law firm Eversheds said: "The judgement leaves open the possibility that a separation distance policy framed in a positive context would be acceptable.

"I don’t think it will be [the end of this]."

The case was being closely watched by the English onshore wind industry. At least eight other local councils in England have, or are proposing, similar separation distance policies. 

These councils are controlled by the right-wing Conservative party, many of whom are anti-wind.

Andrew Geary, leader of Milton Keynes Council, said that since the judgement on Monday, 25 local councils had contacted him seeking more information about the case.

"All around the country, councils have been looking at us. We realise we’re very much a test case and although we’ve lost, we also recognise that the judgement gave some indication that will be very uncomfortable for the wind industry."

The council is going through the judgement with a fine toothcomb and considering several options, including appealing. "I suspect we probably will appeal but that hasn’t been decided yet. This isn’t the end of the road by any means," he said. The judge in the case had already implied that the council would be granted leave to appeal if it asked for it, he added.

John Constable, director of the anti-wind Renewable Energy Foundation said: "The Milton Keynes judgement is essential reading for other authorities who wish to safeguard local amenity from inappropriate renewables development."

A spokesman for trade association Renewable UK said: "We still maintain that the best policy is that each council should decide each case separately.

"We’re slightly baffled as to why you’d do something different."

 


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