Pickles extends grip on UK wind

The onshore wind industry has again cried foul after the UK's government announced it would keep a tight grip on planning decisions for another year.

Eric Pickles – the UK’s pugnacious communities and local government secretary – extended by 12 months a previous six-month period during which he exercised special powers to scrutinise renewable energy projects and overrule consent by local planners in England (Scotland and Wales are not covered by the arrangement).

The original period was ostensibly introduced to make sure that new central government guidance is being adhered to – with onshore wind the focus of his attentions.

Industry groups fear that the extended scrutiny will leave more projects at the mercy of Pickles – a member of the Conservative element of the UK’s ruling Coalition, which has been adopting an increasingly hard line on onshore development.

Critics say the measure gives Pickles the ability to personally decide the fate of projects, and leaves potential wind farms beyond the help of local planners or the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which is supposed to shape UK energy policy.

Pickles leaves little doubt over his views in the official statement setting out his reasons for extending his scrutiny powers, saying he is “pleased to confirm” that since the guidelines were introduced, more projects for "significant" wind deployment have seen appeals against rejection dismissed.

RenewableUK said it is “shocked and disappointed” by the “anti-business, anti-localism” agenda of Pickles.

RenewableUK deputy chief executive Maf Smith said: “Telling local authorities that they can’t decide on wind applications runs counter to the principles of the Localism Act, and introducing more delays is anti-business. The extension is a costly mistake for the UK.

“I expect the official planning bodies for this country will be up in arms that the planning system is being subjugated to political whim in this way.”

Developer Ecotricity is planning a court action against Pickles’ decision to throw out plans for a four-turbine wind farm in Somerset, southwest England.

Ecotricity founder Dale Vince said: “We've worked diligently through the entire planning process, passed every test, including a public enquiry, only to have our application refused by a man that knows nothing on the subject.

“What faith can anyone have in the planning process when this can happen, when the rules are thrown out of the window on a whim?"

The political atmosphere around onshore wind has grown increasingly toxic in the UK, amid reports that the Conservatives are planning measures to limit its expansion if they win the next national election in 2015.