Last month DECC published Best Practice Guidance for community engagement for onshore wind development. Here at Stephenson Halliday we have always thought early community engagement can pay dividends for both developers and communities, so it was with some interest we read the document.
Although the guidance is aimed at developments of between 5MW and 50MW it was clear that it also had applications to smaller scale developments. Encouragingly, the advice recognises that the scope of community engagement should be proportionate to the scale of the development and its likely effects. The guidance advocates public engagement starts early with the development of an engagement plan and continues right through the submission of the planning application, the post consent phase, the period of operation to, finally, decommissioning. At all times the advice is that the process should be structured, timely, transparent, and inclusive.
For communities the guidance indicates that they have a real opportunity to share in the benefits that their local wind energy resources can bring through effective partnerships with those developing wind energy. For developers of course there is the potential to garner support for their projects at the critical planning phase.
The guidance identifies some examples of ‘exemplar practice’. At Keadby, for example, during the consultation period SSE employed a Community Liaison Officer who acted as a point of contact for the local community and was responsible for the flow of information to and from the community. Airvolution took a stand at the Steelhouse Rock Festival in Blaenau Gwent to get their message across as the festival was held on the site of the two turbine proposal. For those whose tastes don’t extend to 80’s rock this was perhaps commitment above and beyond!
The message is clear – community engagement cannot be a bolt on addition to the site development process, it should be embraced early, be embedded at all stages of the development and continue through to decommissioning.
The good practice guide is available below.