Kelly moves to free wind turbines from red tape

The government plans to make it easier for homeowners to install their own ‘green’ sources of energy, previewing plans today to cut ‘red tape’ on devices such as turbines and solar panels.

Communities secretary Ruth Kelly wants to allow homeowners to install microgeneration devices without planning permission.

As long as there will be little or no impact on neighbours, the government wants to allow homeowners to install small-scale solar panels, turbines and ground water pumps without going through a costly and time consuming planning application process.

Launching a consultation on the plans at a speech to the Green Alliance in London, Ms Kelly said planning restrictions should not be a barrier to action on climate change.

“We need changes to ensure the system is proportionate – whilst retaining clear, common-sense safeguards on noise, siting and size,” she said.

“We can only succeed if we match local action alongside global agreement. The real action to implement steps to a low carbon economy and society has to take place at community level.”

A Department of Trade and Industry study estimated microgeneration could meet up to 40 per cent of the UK’s energy needs by 2050, also reducing annual household carbon emissions by 15 per cent.

Domestic homes account for around a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse emissions.

There are already some 100,000 microgeneration devices installed across the UK. But the planning process can take up to three months and cost up to £1,000.

Ms Kelly proposed councils should still have the power to deny permission in “exceptional circumstances”. Insisting microgeneration devices are not a “fashion accessory”, she said permission could be refused if the benefits are questionable.

In an apparent dig at Conservative leader David Cameron, she said this could include “a wind turbine in a built-up area with little wind”.

Mr Cameron’s much hyped wind turbine encountered its own planning problems, when builders attached it to the wall of his west London home, rather than chimney stack as agreed in the planning application.

Following Mr Cameron’s example, the Conservative’s welcomed Ms Kelly’s attempt to make wind turbines accessible, but questioned the implications of such home improvements. They claimed it could mean higher tax bills, as under a new ‘house price tax’ being piloted in Northern Ireland, material changes to a property increase the owner’s tax liability.

Michael Gove, Conservative shadow minister for housing & planning, said: “We welcome measures to cut unnecessary red tape to make it easier for residents to make their home greener. It is a shame that Labour ministers are planning to hammer home improvements, including green energy measures, with higher council tax bills.

“Northern Ireland has become the testing ground for the English council tax revaluation. I fear Gordon Brown’s tax inspectors will hit residents with higher local tax bills for saving and investing in their home.”

The chancellor announced a 50 per cent increase in funding for household-scale microgeneration schemes in last month’s Budget.