The Offshore Wind sector is a major, dynamic, and rapidly evolving renewable energy industry. This is particularly so in Europe, and especially in the UK. The growth has been particularly rapid in the decade from 2010 onwards, and the momentum into the current decade may be even greater. There is also growing interest and development activity in this sector in many other parts of the world, and it has the potential to be an important contributor to a low carbon energy transition. Offshore Wind Farms (OWFs) are normally large projects, and increasingly very large projects, in terms of spatial spread and development expenditure. Such projects usually require specific planning and assessment procedures in advance of any development consent. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process is designed to ‘ identify, predict, evaluate and mitigate the biophysical, social and other relevant effects of proposed development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made’ (IAIA 2009). The International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA), in its Social Impact Assessment Guidance (IAIA 2015), promotes an increased focus in the assessment process upon enhancing the benefits of projects to impacted communities. Increasingly there is a focus on major projects earning their ‘social licence to operate’, in terms of gaining the support and cooperation of their host communities (Boutilier, 2017)). In addition, there has been a growth of interest in community benefits as voluntary measures provided by a developer outside of the planning and licensing processes noted above. These measures may be in the form of Community Benefit Agreements (CBA) or Community Benefit Schemes (CBS) in some practice. The term refers to those agreements between the various stakeholders involved in a project, in particular between the developer and the host community, which can provide a range of benefits, including financial incentives, infrastructure, and community empowerment measures. There are various arguments for CBAs, for example in recognition of a community’s participation in an energy project perceived as being ‘in the national interest’. Additionally for many large projects there are always likely to be some indirect disturbance effects and changes in lifestyle that are less easy to address. CBAs are becoming a growing element in the life of major projects in the UK, especially for energy projects. The UK onshore wind farm industry now has well developed approaches to community benefits. For example, in Scotland such onshore projects currently pay host communities £5000 per installed MW pa, index-linked, over the 20-25 years operation and management stage of developments (Scottish Government, 2013, 2019). In contrast, the consideration of community benefits from offshore wind farm projects is relatively new and has been managed more flexibly, reflecting the developing nature of the industry (Glasson, 2017; Rudolf et al, 2017). Some, predominantly near-shore English and Welsh wind farms (eg North Hoyle and Rhyll Flats off the north Wales coast) have followed the pattern of the onshore wind farms, with benefits pro rata to MW size (although at a much lower rate). However, in many cases, and for some of the large North Sea distant offshore wind farms, the benefits packages have been more ad hoc and pro rata much smaller than for onshore projects. Rudolph et al (2017) note that there is limited experience of applying community benefits to offshore wind farms, partly due to the challenges of defining the relevant community, as well 2 as the distance between the project and any beneficiaries, and the way in which impact is perceived. They conclude that there should be a tailoring of community benefit schemes to particular contexts, taking into account local circumstances. In an earlier article (Rudolf et al, 2014), they recommend the avoidance of restrictive guidance for this relatively new, developing and risky by nature offshore renewables industry. However, with a growing number of OWFs, especially in the UK, but also in other countries in the EU, experience in developing and applying community benefits agreements for such projects is increasing. In addition, while in general research notes that there is currently a lack of guidance for developers entering into negotiations with communities, it is noteworthy that the Scottish Government has produced a guide ‘Good Practice Principles for Community Benefits from Offshore Renewable Energy Developments’ (Scottish Government, 2015, 2018). This highlights principles and practices to follow in designing a community benefit package for offshore renewable energy projects. Scottish local government has also produced some guidance on the subject; for example, see Highlands Regional Council (2013). This article explores the evolving nature of community benefits for offshore wind farm developments. The focus is on the UK, with practice from some of the major OWF developers in Europe. The following two sections briefly explore the nature of the industry, and of community benefits, before a clarification of key research questions and the research approach. In addition to discussing the case for community benefits for OWFs, their evolving nature and operation, the article notes the dynamics between the key stakeholders — developers, host communities and local and central governments and their agencies. In particular, the research explores the question as to whether it is now timely to consider a shift from a laissez-faire to a more structured, or at least semi-structured, approach. The article explores evolving practice at two levels. The first is in macro terms of trends in the adoption of community benefits approaches, primarily in the UK, but with reference to practice elsewhere. The second is in more micro terms through three recent in-depth case studies which form part of a recent EU/Vattenfall sponsored research project on the local socioeconomic impacts of OWFs.