RenewableUK's annual report states that 110 schemes and 1.7GW were approved in 2011/12 against 77 projects and 1.1GW consented in 2010/11. It claims that the trend for declining approval rates at the local level in England over the last five years may have abated.
This is despite several Conservative-led local authorities in England introducing or considering buffer zones of up to two kilometres between wind farms and housing. The industry has expressed concern that the streamlined and simplified English permitting policy introduced in March - the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) - now needs supplementing with extra guidance to prevent local councils effectively banning wind farms in their local area when this is not in line with national policy.
"The improvement in the number of projects approved at local level shows that wind farm developers are working increasingly closely with councillors and local communities to ensure their plans are acceptable and sensitive," said a spokesman for RenewableUK.
"It's clear that most councils believe that the best way to make each decision is on a case by case basis, so that all the individual local factors can be taken into consideration.
"This is far more sensible than trying to impose any arbitrary limits or introducing blanket bans, as any such moves would be undemocratic," the spokesman added.
Good news for big projects
RenewableUK's assessment specifies that UK approval rates for projects above 50MW, which are decided by central government, reached a high of 91% by capacity this year against previous consent rates of 88% and 86% on 2010/11 and 2009/10 respectively, demonstrating a continuing trend towards greater capacity-based approval rates.
New legislation introduced to parliament last week may help prevent delays in the permitting process. Government guidance on the draft law states that major applications can be made to the government and "swiftly decided" by independent body the Planning Inspectorate "where councils have a very poor record in deciding applications" because of "unreasonable delay".
However, the government failed to specify what it meant by major applications and how poor performers would be identified.
1.7GW - The number of gigawatts of UK onshore wind approved in 2011/12 Source: RenewableUK.