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Government promises planning reform after pressure from wind farm builders

The Government has promised a better and faster system for approving wind farms and other major infrastructure as it acknowledged that it was taking way too long for decisions to come through.

Following years of pressure from some of the country’s biggest renewable developers, the Government said that it wants to at least hit its own timescales.

From 2012 to 2021 the time it took to get a so-called Development Consent Order ballooned from 2.6 years to 4.2 years.

The system is making it increasingly difficult for developers to help the UK reach its target to try to decarbonise the power grid by 2035.

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“The system does not always move with the focus and speed we need,” the Government said.

Juliette Webb, an environmental policy analyst at trade body RenewableUK, said: “We’re pleased that ministers across four Government departments have recognised our key recommendations to reform the planning process as a matter of urgency, to enable much-needed renewable energy projects to go ahead faster.”

Current rules are regulated by a 2008 act which says that developers of nationally significant infrastructure should be able to get a decision within 17 months.

“Our priority is to get back to decision-making within the statutory timescales as a minimum and make improvements wherever possible,” the Government said on Thursday.

It added: “The Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) consenting process has served the UK well for more than a decade.

“However, the demands on the system are changing, and its speed has slowed. The number and complexity of cases coming into the system is increasing. Policy changes are more frequent in response to a changing world.”

It remains to be seen what comes out of the Government’s plans. For now it has promised to consult on plans to streamline the process and create a new fast-track consulting process.

By September it hopes to be piloting some key parts of the changes with the plans in place by next spring.

Developers have been calling for changes for years in the hope of speeding up the roll out of wind farms, solar farms and connecting them to the grid.

Once all the material and equipment is on site, it can take just 24 hours to put up a wind turbine and a full wind farm can be erected in less than a year. But the planning and consent takes a lot longer.

“The current planning system moves at a glacial pace – it can take four or five years to get approval for an offshore wind farm,” Ms Webb said.

“If we’re to cut people’s energy bills, boost Britain’s energy security and meet our net-zero target, the Government must reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and streamline the way the system works to make it more agile and responsive.”