Memorandum from the Countryside Agency
1. The Countryside Agency is the statutory
to conserve and enhance England's
to spread social and economic opportunity
for the people who live there; and
to help everyone, wherever they live
and whatever their background, to enjoy the countryside and share
in this priceless national asset.
2. We are pleased to have the opportunity
of contributing to the Environmental Audit Committee's inquiry
on renewable energy. Our submission addresses the first and last
specific points raised in the Committee's call for evidence:
levels of achievement so far and
the current rate of progress; and
the interaction of the planning system
and the development of renewable sources of power generation.
3. The Countryside Agency supports the Government's
objectives for renewable energy. Our role in addressing all aspects
of sustainable development in the countryside obliges us to consider
how and where renewable energy is developed. This gives us a role
as a critical advocate of renewables, especially as most renewable
energy schemes are likely to be built in the countryside. It forces
us to consider how to maximise the benefits and minimise any disbenefits,
to both people and places. These issues are vital factors to build
into the support of renewable energy, and the planning criteria
and conditions by which schemes are assessed.
A JOINED UP
4. Whichever mix of technologies might actually
develop in the future, renewables must be integrated into the
life and the character of the countryside. The benefits of this
(a) it means that renewables will contribute
to sustainable development across the countryside, rather than
detract from it;
(b) it will be a means of drawing many types
of people and organisations into developing, influencing, and
benefiting from renewables, because they feel comfortable with
the proposed developments, are interested in getting involved
and in taking some responsibility themselves;
(c) it will be a way of securing agreement
for schemes from people, organisations and local authorities,
so they are not protesters but participants;
(d) the developments work with the character
of the countryside rather than against it.
5. To help achieve this integrated future
for renewables, the following things need to happen:
Market conditions need to encourage renewables
to be linked to other developments rather than favour large schemes
working in isolation. Indeed, trading arrangements which make
no concessions for these wider interests and only stimulate bigger,
more profitable schemes working in isolation, could be self defeating.
Joint working: The ability of all key institutionsParish
Councils, local authorities, Regional Development Agencies, housing
developers, hospitals, schools, waste recycling centres, saw mills,
agriculture and forestry businessesto work together in
different arrangements to create the schemes, whether they are
waste, biomass, solar, hydro, or wind related. This will need
a policy commitment, and a spirit of innovation from these bodies.
The forthcoming Community Renewables initiative (see below) which
involves local and national co-ordination of the relevant institutions,
provides an example of the joined up working required.
Advice and training, aimed at the increasingly
diverse range of people engaged in tackling all aspects of renewables,
including the types of institutions cited above.
Help for community level renewable energy schemes.
By this we mean schemes, of any technology and of any size, which
are conceived by members of local communities and which carry
the support of other stakeholders because of their environmental
sensitivity and because they can deliver benefits to the locality.
They might involve conventional developers and suppliers for their
finance and delivery. The Countryside Agency is collaborating
with the DTI to set up and manage this national pilot scheme for
community renewables, which will begin later in 2001.
Bold policies in development plans and Regional
Planning Guidance, which acknowledge the need for renewables,
set a realistic framework for their development and clearly identify
the criteria and conditions by which schemes will be approved.
Methods for "sustainability appraisal"
which help developers, planners, and other stakeholders to understand
the different objectives of sustainable development and address
them systematically. The Countryside Agency is currently working
with the DTI's Energy Technology Support Unit to help devise such
a methodology relevant to renewable energy.
6. The Countryside Agency believes that
Government has to date relied too heavily on technical criteria
for support of renewables and has paid insufficient attention
to the wider conditions required to help devise and implement
schemes. Paragraphs 7 to 14 below recommend additional criteria
for government support to renewable energy.
7. By concentrating almost exclusively on
their benefits in curbing climate change, renewable energy developments
have paid less attention to the other objectives of sustainable
development, notably "social progress" (such as the
involvement of all stakeholders in influencing developments) other
aspects of "environmental protection" such as countryside
character effects and transport effects. In accordance with the
Government's sustainable development strategy, renewable energy
developments should not detract from these other aspects of quality
of life, and should wherever possible contribute to them.
8. Market support has to have an eye to
commercially viable options, but a sole focus on present viability
will deny other opportunities for progress. If market conditions
created by the forthcoming renewables obligation only nurture
a limited number of mature technologies we will postpone the advance
of other technologies, the range of circumstance in which they
could develop and the benefits they could offer.
9. The lack of banding, or multi-tiered
support, in the proposed renewables obligation will result in
the advancement of a limited number of technologies, especially
disadvantaging locally based schemes which can contribute to many
aspects of sustainable development. This is denying progress on
a wider range of emerging and early stage technologies and will
limit the situations in which renewables can provide benefits
for other objectives of sustainable development.
10. In light of the above factors we have
recommended to the DTI that capital grants be available to promote
renewables in three ways which meet overall sustainable development
objectives more effectively. These are set out in paragraphs 11-15
11. Onshore wind energy developments may
be a significant component of the Government's renewables target,
particularly in the early years. Conflict amongst stakeholders
is likely to continue if financial pressures force these developments
onto least cost and often sensitive sites. This point is recognised
by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's 2000 report
Energy: the changing climate. We believe that the regional
targets and planning exercises should be strengthened by an explicit
Government policy that directs onshore wind schemes onto less
12. As an addition to the proposed renewables
obligation, we recommend capital grants to provide an additional
incentive for brownfield site wind energy schemes. By supporting
wind energy on brownfield sites, such as developed and former
industrial areas and urban fringe locations, the additional cost
would be justified by wind energy's contributions to other economic,
social, and environmental objectives in these areas. This issue
is covered further in paragraph 16 below.
13. For the reasons set out in paragraphs
8 and 9 above, we believe the obligation must help to grow a range
of technologies to fit a range of circumstances. In particular
we urge the use of capital grants in relation to offshore wind,
local biomass schemes and photovoltaics.
14. We believe there are strong grounds
for offering capital grants for community based renewable energy
developments of the type described in paragraph 5. Such community
based developments could:
cumulatively, make a modest but worthwhile
contribution to the targets for renewables;
demonstrate the relevance of renewable
energy to people at a local level;
help establish understanding and
support for well conceived renewable energy schemes amongst the
provide a range of economic, social,
and environmental benefits for their host localities;
involve a wide range of groups, institutions,
and individuals in designing and developing schemes, creating
a wider, active, constituency in renewable energy.
15. We believe the above factors are sound
reasons for investing additional public money in renewables through
capital grants, in tandem with the obligation.
16. The means of integrating onshore wind
energy with the character of the countryside is a crucial challenge
for the delivery of the Government's renewables target. In its
advice to the regional planning exercises on renewables targets,
the Countryside Agency is recommending the integration of onshore
wind energy with countryside character objectives. This should
lead to the following sequence for exploring sites for wind energy
being set out in regional guidance and in development plans:
First, a focus on "brownfield"
sitesfor example former industrial sites, old airfields
etc. We would potentially include in this category areas adjacent
to major brownfield land and some commercial forest sites. There
may be scope for large scale schemes in these sorts of locations.
Second, sites where wind schemes
deliver economic, social, and environmental benefits to the host
locality and are not very sensitive in terms of countryside characterfor
example sites at the edge of market towns and sites in the fringes
of towns and cities. Wind schemes in these locations could help
to regenerate a market town or a down at heel part of a city's
fringe. They might also offer educational and visitor resources
for a local audience. The Swaffham turbine is such an example.
Third, sites which are more sensitive
in relation to countryside character, generally speaking in the
open countryside, but where conditions, such as limits on numbers
and/or sizes of turbines, could make some schemes acceptable.
And fourth, sites which are inherently
most sensitive, where there will be a strong presumption against
wind energy developments, although there may be scope for small
scale schemes, if such schemes could be accommodated by the area's
countryside character. These will tend to be the more upland,
wilder tracts of land and stretches of Heritage Coasts. They are
vital economic assets to the nation as well as the areas which
are valued highest for their environmental and amenity values.
2010 AND BEYOND
17. Better progress needs to be made on
installing renewable energy in the short term, hence the need
for targets for 2005 and 2010. However we believe that meeting
these targets should not blind us to the need for much greater
progress over the next 50 years and more. We should not just look
at what is economically practical within a fixed 10 year horizon.
We must be mindful of the opportunities for and consequences of
renewable energy technologies well beyond 2010. We must not risk
losing the huge challenge for renewable energy development in
the longer term by driving through insensitive development to
meet the 2010 target. If greater public support for renewable
energy cannot be secured over the next ten years, the achievement
of long term targets will be much more difficult, if not impossible.
The measures set out here are our proposals for securing that