United Kingdom

United Kingdom

The planning process

A description of the UK system and process of building permits, where anybody constructing anything larger than a one chicken hen house must apply to their local authority for "planning permission."

Under the UK system of building permits, anybody constructing anything larger than a one chicken hen house must apply to their local authority for "planning permission." Planning applications for structures likely to have significant landscape impact must also be accompanied by Environmental Statements. In practice this applies to all wind plants of more than ten turbines.

The local district or borough planning authority consults on the proposal with a variety of bodies -- such as parish councils, neighbouring local authorities and other statutory bodies. The planning officer -- an official of the authority -- makes his recommendation on the basis of the authority's policies in its development plan. The application is then voted on by the elected members of the council -- usually the planning committee.

One of the factors that distinguishes the UK system from that in most other European countries is the power of planning committees. Councillors are guided, but not bound by, the development plan. For larger projects accompanied by an Environmental Statement, the process takes from eight to 16 weeks.

If the committee refuses to grant consent to the project, the applicant has six months to appeal. The appeal can take the form of either written representations or a public inquiry, as the applicant chooses. Written representations are cheaper, but a public inquiry gives a wind plant developer the opportunity to test the planning authority's grounds for refusal. Whatever route is chosen, the case is examined by a planning inspector appointed by the Department of the Environment or Welsh Office. In Scotland this role is performed by a recorder appointed by the Scottish Office.

Inquiries hear evidence from a wide range of parties and can range from four days to six weeks; two weeks is more typical. The inspector's recommendation after the inquiry is usually final, but in cases where the project is judged to be of more than local significance, the final decision is taken by the Secretary of State for the Environment (in England), the Scottish Secretary north of the border or the Welsh Secretary.

In Scotland, until recently, the Scottish Secretary was required have the final say over all wind farm applications. Earlier this year, however he waived his right to pronounce on schemes of less than ten turbines.

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