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27 November 20236 minute read

The state of play for onshore wind in England

In recent years, the onshore wind sector in England has been heavily restricted by English planning policy as a result of a series of changes introduced in 2015. This is despite growing pressure from the government to expand renewable energy output to meet the net zero target by 20501 and to alleviate a surge in household bills. This article will explore why only a handful of onshore wind schemes have been approved in the last decade, despite being one of the cheapest forms of energy to generate and one of the quickest to build.


Before the change

The planning policies by which proposals for onshore wind development in England were assessed are contained in the local plans of the relevant district council areas and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Since 2015, these policies were to be applied by local planning authorities subject to footnote 54 of the NPPF, which states:

“Except for applications for the repowering of existing wind turbines, a proposed wind energy development involving one or more turbines should not be considered acceptable unless it is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in the development plan; and, following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been fully addressed and the proposal has their backing.”

Footnote 54 required developers of new onshore wind farms to proceed only if they had secured an allocation for the site in the local plan, where planning impacts (landscape and visual, noise, bird strike) had been fully addressed and where the proposal had “community backing.” There is no definition of community backing, which was widely interpreted by the industry to mean that a single objection from a local resident was sufficient to block the development. Since it was introduced by the Cameron government, footnote 54 has acted as an effective de facto ban on all proposals for onshore wind development in England. Since 2015, only 17 small scale onshore wind farms have been granted planning approval and in 2022, only 2 were given the green light.2


Recent amendments

On 5 September 2023, the government issued a Ministerial Statement and an updated version of the NPPF. After months of speculation, this was much anticipated by the onshore wind sector. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities received 26,000 responses after the December 2022 NPPF consultation, highlighting the sector’s dissatisfaction with the current position.3

However, in contrast to the significant reform hoped for, footnote 54 has been retained with just minor amendments to the wording.

An amendment to footnote 54 has been made which broadens the ways suitable sites for onshore wind can be identified. Suitable areas for wind development can now be identified in “a development plan or a supplementary planning document.” Newly introduced footnote 53 outlines that these “supplementary documents” can include Local Development Orders, Neighborhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders. The Ministerial Statement explains the intention of including supplementary documents is that they allow for more agile and targeted routes for allocating suitable sites. The intention is that “they can help speed up the process” and “increase the area of land on which onshore wind is deemed suitable,” hopefully enabling more developments to be accepted. This is in comparison to solely using development plans, which can take years to develop and are comparatively more restricted in scope. The problem with this analysis is that developers were never prevented from bringing forward such instruments to facilitate onshore wind development before – none were ever brought forward because the need for the proposal to have community backing still acted as the handbrake on new projects, irrespective of whether the site was allocated or not.

The NPPF amendment also changed the wording of footnote 54 regarding addressing community concerns and the requisite level of community support. The impacts on the affected community now need to be “appropriately addressed” instead of “fully addressed” – which is a welcome change and brings the threshold for assessment to a comparable level with other types of development. Instead of “community backing” being required, it is now enough to have “community support” while providing no definition or clarity as to how community support is to be measured. The Ministerial Statement stated that it was never the intention of the policy of footnote 54 that a single objector could defeat a development proposal, so it must be inferred that community support is a watering down of the restriction, but it’s not clear how diluted the restriction now is.

Lastly, a new reference to “life-extension” has also been made in the first line of footnote 54. This suggests that the government is encouraging maximizing existing sites and extending the lifespan of current projects.


The effect of the change

The amended language in footnote 54 was intended to relax the rigorous standards imposed for proposals of onshore wind. Instead, in practice, the policy position remains virtually the same.

Despite the amendments, the updated wording still has the starting position that developments should be considered unacceptable unless particular circumstances apply. The footnote still requires a proposed onshore wind site to have an allocation, either in the development plan or through a supplementary planning document. It still requires “community support” while providing no clear definition or guidance on what the threshold for community support actually is and how many objections from local residents is enough to defeat the development proposal.

Although a marginal step in the right direction, what was required was the deletion of footnote 54 altogether, to allow onshore wind development to be considered on the same footing as any other development promoted through the planning system. Further still, the restoration of onshore wind into the Planning Act 2008 consenting regime would allow for nationally significant onshore wind developments to come forward on strategic sites. Without these changes, it’s unlikely we’ll see any shift in the activity of the sector overall.

1 Climate Change Act 2008, section 1 - Climate Change Act 2008 (
 Wind Energy Projects - RenewableUK
 The Ministerial statement - Written statements - Written questions, answers and statements - UK Parliament