Wind Farm Subsidies (Abolition) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:02 pm on 6th March 2015.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), Minister of State for Portsmouth, The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change 12:02 pm, 6th March 2015

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough would do a remarkable job in your seat, but I am grateful for your guidance.

I want to mention planning, not least because it was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and because it forms part of the wider arguments about whether we should have subsidies for onshore wind in the future and whether we should end subsidies for onshore wind in the way set out in the Bill or in a careful and measured way, as I have set out.

We have been very clear that wind farms must be well sited to receive planning permission and that communities must be taken into account before planning decisions are made. The reforms we have made to the planning system bear that out. We have also made it compulsory for developers to have pre-application consultations with local communities on onshore wind developments of more than two turbines or when the hub height of the turbine exceeds 15 metres. That means that developers need to engage seriously with communities even before submitting a planning application.

We have also published new planning practice guidance on renewable energy, updated last year, which will help deliver the balance required by the national planning policy framework. That will make it clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities. This is what I was referring to earlier when I said that saving the global environment must not be done in a way that damages our local environment. The new planning guidance has also been published to assist local councils and planning inspectors in their consideration of local plans and individual planning applications.

I also want to touch on the planning recoveries issue mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and by the hon. Member for Sunderland Central. Our new planning practice guidance and the requirement for developers to consult local communities before they submit a planning application are crucial steps in improving the quality of proposed onshore wind developments and ensuring that local communities are listened to whether there is a subsidy in place or not, as set out in the Bill. Of course, however, some communities remain concerned when a local planning decision is challenged on appeal.

It is important that local communities continue to have confidence in the appeals process and that the environmental balance expected by the national planning policy framework is reflected in decisions on renewable energy deployment. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced a temporary change to the appeals recovery criteria for a period of six months. In doing so, he explained that he wanted to give particular scrutiny to planning appeals involving renewable energy developments so that he could consider the extent to which the new practice guidance met our intentions. Since that planning guidance was issued, more appeals have been dismissed than approved for more significant turbines, reversing the trend before the guidance was issued, when more approvals were approved than dismissed.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has found that the guidance is helping to ensure that decisions reflect the environmental balance we need to see, as set out in the framework, but he also recognises that the guidance is relatively new and that some development proposals might not yet have taken on board its intent. That is why after careful consideration he decided on 9 April 2014 to extend the temporary change to the appeals recovery criteria and continue to consider for recovery appeals for renewable energy developments for a further 12 months. We will continue to monitor the impact of recoveries on onshore wind and on investor confidence more broadly. There you have it, Mr Deputy Speaker.

We have been very clear about the fact that onshore wind plays a role in our energy mix. It produced 7% of the UK’s electricity in the last quarter, but we need to ensure that we tackle the challenge of climate change in the way that incurs the lowest possible cost. In the next Parliament, we will in time remove the subsidies from onshore wind, but I hope that that will happen as part of a wider move to drive down the cost of subsidies, especially as the cost of renewables falls and as some renewables, such as solar, are financed reasonably cost-effectively and reach parity with fossil fuels. That will significantly change the debate about renewables because we will reach a point where going green reduces costs, rather than adding subsidies to consumers’ bills.

We should stick to that clear direction and vision, and we should do so in a way that allows the House to abide by its commitments. I take on board the point about the Bill’s intention, which is consistent with the Prime Minister’s words, even if the technicalities are slightly different.

I have not dwelt at all on the utter chaos and catastrophe of the Opposition’s policies, the inconsistencies of which were well drawn out in the debate. I am not going to go there, and I will not talk about how no one can have a freeze that is not a freeze and how the freeze policy was launched by someone standing next to an ice block, so to describe it later as a cap seems inconsistent with the intention at the time.

It is a great pity that the Opposition have no credible policy to speak of, but I suppose that only shows why it is vital that we have a successful outcome to the general election, so that we can continue with the goals that we have set. I look forward to working further on the Bill’s details with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, but it is clear that the costs of subsidies for wind are falling. We are bringing them down through the power of the ingenuity of mankind and the price discovery of the market. We are clear that we will remove future subsidies for onshore wind, and we will be careful to ensure that local planning considerations and the beauty of the local environment are taken into account. Although I have considerable sympathy with the Bill, it is not the right way to go about the stated policy, and the Government will therefore resist it.