Expert advice avoids an ill wind

Wind farms offer landowners financial rewards, but the risks of a botched planning application are considerable, warns Hannah Morrall

Gaining planning permission for an on-shore wind farm requires an upfront investment with no guarantee of return. Costs vary with the size of the scheme, from £2,000 to more than £50,000. If planning permission isn’t granted, the money’s lost, so it’s imperative for landowners to work with specialist consultancies to help during the planning application phase.

The financial rewards of successful wind farms are attractive. The best can pay back the investment in five or six years, while most pay back in under 10 years, generally supported by incentives such as feed-in tariffs (FiTs).

More than 50% of schemes, however, fail at the planning permission stage, but with the help of a planning consultant, this risk can be reduced. An initial feasibility study can be done with the help of a wind turbine consultant from ADAS. This assesses all relevant aspects of a potential site including wind speed, public rights of way and proximity to hedges, watercourses and trees, as well as airports and MOD sites.

A consultation with Ofcom is also required to establish whether telecommunication links cross the area close to the proposed location. Once the feasibility stage is complete, a potential site owner should contact a planning consultant. They will carry out a ‘light touch’ appraisal which establishes the site’s suitability from the planning perspective.

The consultant will also lodge a pre-planning application enquiry to establish the types of detailed survey that will be required for your specific site. A number of different professional surveys may need to be commissioned. Planning consultants such as ADAS have their own network of national experts who conduct all types of surveys, including habitat surveys to establish the presence of protected species.

It is also necessary to assess the infrastructure and suitability of transport links, particularly for the heavy cranes used to erect the turbines. Once all this information is collected, a planning application can be submitted.

To avoid unnecessary delays, landowners need to ensure they are available to respond to requests for additional information on any surveys that have been submitted. Knowledge of local planning policy always facilitates this process, as does an understanding of local validation criteria. Planning consultants are able to liaise and co-ordinate the application with the local authority to ensure a smoother process.

Above all, allow plenty of time. The process takes a minimum of six months but can take much longer, depending on the timing of surveys and the number of additional requests, as well as any public objections and appeals.

Once planning permission is granted the financial risks are generally reduced but not removed. The wind turbine must then be paid for along with all other ancillary equipment. This cost can vary from a few thousand pounds to above £1 million.

Hannah Morrall is a planning consultant with ADAS. For more information visit www.adas.co.uk

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