Supreme Court appeal judgment - Severndale turbine unable to proceed.
Disappointing news from the Supreme Court – the judgment for Resilient Energy Severndale’s appeal against the quashing of a 2015 planning permission for a 500kW community wind turbine at Severndale Farm was unsuccessful.
The court ruled that in granting planning permission for the project which was to be developed by a community benefit society (operating for the benefit of the Tidenham and broader Forest of Dean community) the Forest of Dean District Council planning committee acted unlawfully by giving positive weight in its decision making to an element of the associated community benefits (a 4% share of operational turnover as a community resilience fund).
Public social, environmental and economic benefits are routinely a consideration in planning decisions, and planning policy encourages local planning authorities to give positive weight to these aspects in a balancing exercise of impacts and benefits in arriving at their decisions. There are numerous social, environmental and economic benefits achieved by community energy projects such as this, as evidenced from other Resilient Energy projects locally. However, two of the thirteen councillors on the planning committee which determined the application mentioned the presence of a community fund commitment (just one aspect of the benefits for the community) when debating the project’s merits. The court concluded that a monetary element had contributed to the council’s decision making which did not comply with an aspect of planning law (‘the Newbury Rules’) which provide a framework for defining material considerations and is designed to prevent the buying of planning permission.
The Supreme Court had invited the Secretary of State to intervene and, at the hearing in July, the Secretary of State’s legal representative not only supported the appeal by Resilient Energy Severndale and the Forest of Dean District Council, but also invited the Supreme Court to update the Newbury Rules to reflect changes in societal development. The judges were unconvinced by his arguments and were not in favour of doing so concluding that legally, however desirable the project intentions, the approval decision was unlawful.
The final result is disappointing, but the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land - its judgment is final and must be respected. Resilient Energy Severndale is extremely appreciative of all the support received from the many local people, other community energy practitioners, and other environmentally and socially minded organisations – we have never felt alone. We are also extremely grateful for the pro bono assistance from the talented legal teams at Burges Salmon and No 5 Chambers with support from Landmark Chambers.
With the increasing focus on the urgent need to respond to the climate emergency we remind ourselves that just because progress in renewable energy and the transition to a low carbon future is difficult doesn’t mean we stop striving for it – there is still so much to be done and an increasing urgency to act to avert the worst effects of climate change.