Memorandum submitted by UK Business Council for Sustainable Energy (PB 13)

 

 

 

Submission to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee - Planning Bill

 

Introduction

 

1.0 The UK Business Council for Sustainable Energy (UKBCSE) was established in 2002 to support the fastest transition to a sustainable energy economy consistent with the delivery of a secure, reliable and affordable energy infrastructure.

 

2.0 UKBCSE and its members[1] have been working with the sector's principal trade associations - the British Wind Energy Association, the Association of Electricity Producers, the Gas Forum, the Renewable Energy Association and the Energy Networks Association all of whom have been involved in the preparation of this submission and support its observations.

 

3.0 The companies concerned are responsible for a very significant proportion of the UK's sustainable energy projects, both large and small and much of the country's energy infrastructure, a significant proportion of which needs to be renewed and made fit for purpose for a carbon constrained world.

 

4.0 The energy sector welcomes much of the Government's proposals for planning reform contained in the Planning Bill.

 

The Case for Change

 

5.0 The current planning regime dates from an era before carbon climate change was a significant factor, and when much of the energy sector was state owned. It has evolved into a complex system, with long consent timescales, potentially significant costs and uncertainty, which many feel are a significant barrier to achieving the targets set for the lower carbon technologies needed to tackle climate change. The reform of the planning system is critical to the move towards a low-carbon economy and the long-term security of the UK's future energy infrastructure. However, effective community engagement must be an integral part of this transition particularly as we all adjust to the changes needed to tackle climate change.


 

5.1 A third of the UK's existing electricity generation portfolio, as well as a significant proportion of the infrastructure which supports it, needs replacing over the next ten to fifteen years, and within a decade 80% of the UK's gas will be imported. Equally, many more low-carbon energy projects are needed to achieve the soon to be mandatory 2050 carbon dioxide reduction targets, and the recently agreed 20% EU renewables target. All of this will drive the major development of onshore and offshore renewables, and other new lower carbon plant.

 

5.2 Potentially this will significantly change the energy system, creating a combination of distributed generation much nearer to the centres of major energy demand, and with a significant part today's large-scale generation being replaced with lower carbon plant such as large-scale renewables, much of which may be in the remoter parts of the UK, or offshore. However, the electricity that is produced will still need to be efficiently transported to the areas of greatest demand, which is typically in the middle and south of England.

 

5.3 Such a changing fuel mix, and generation portfolio, coupled with an integrated national and local grid will be a key part of maintaining security of supply and mitigating climate change. Much of this change will however have to be approved though the UK's various planning regimes.

 

The Government's Key Proposals

 

6.0 This integrated reform package establishes an independent Infrastructure Planning Commission to determine all nationally significant infrastructure projects; introduces National Policy Statements setting out the policy framework against which decisions should be made; simplifies the energy consents regime; clarifies arrangements for community engagement and introduces generally welcome efficiency improvements in the Town and Country Planning regime. We attach importance to all aspects of this package.

 

6.1 Effective Community Engagement - the energy industry supports the Government's proposals for enhanced community consultation, including proposed requirements for thorough community consultation prior to submitting a consent application. This needs to be both innovative and effective.

 

6.2 The aim should be to ensure that relevant local communities and particularly the local authorities that are elected to represent them, are involved earlier and in a meaningful way in the development of major infrastructure proposals. The proposed simplification of the planning regime should significantly help communities better understand developers' plans and contribute to them early on. Proper provision does, however, also need to be made for local authorities active involvement, particularly in areas affected by major developments

 

6.3 The inclusion of an 'open floor' process and a right to be heard during consideration of a consent application for a nationally significant infrastructure project are welcome steps in their own right.

 

6.4 The UKBCSE is working with the Local Government Association to develop a programme of activity to support a deeper understanding of the challenges both the industry and planning authorities have, as well as the sharing of best practice. The Council is also working on a similar basis with Natural England, as well as the Core Cites Network of major City Councils.

 

6.5 Infrastructure Planning Commission - the industry supports the principle of the new Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) determining consents for nationally significant energy infrastructure projects. Separating industry sponsorship and policy-making from the planning process, but within a clearly defined policy framework with agreed timescales, coupled with a single authority taking a holistic view of the impact of all proposals on a geographical region, has the potential to significantly enhance the quality of decisions. However, it is essential that the IPC is sufficiently and expertly resourced, and in order to ensure the legitimacy of the IPC, its relationship with Ministers and Parliament must be clearly defined, understood and effective.

 

6.6 We welcome the proposal for pre-agreed timescales but have urged Government to set time limits for each stage of the process in order to provide maximum clarity for developers and affected communities. This would apply to those stages of the process each side of the suggested nine months for determination as well as the assessment period.

 

6.7 National Policy Statements - are fundamental to the success of these planning reforms and the need for clear, stable and long-term policy frameworks to underpin a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy and continued energy security. Given that they will form the basis of many of the IPC's decisions, the industry has argued strongly and consistently that the framework of National Policy Statements for infrastructure projects of national significance needs to be established through a robust and effective parliamentary process. National Policy Statements need to be supported by the broadest possible public and political consensus on their preparation and contents in order to achieve the legitimacy that the planning reforms require to ensure their long-term success.

 

6.8 Therefore, to ensure maximum creditability we would wish to see a clear requirement for National Policy Statements to be subject to a formal process of affirmative resolution by both Houses, and a clear statement of primacy, including their inter-relationship with existing planning policy, guidance etc, the Town and Country Planning regime, and in their application in Scotland.

 


6.9 It is also vital to ensure a clear and smooth transition between the current system and the new regime, particularly the transition between existing Government policy statements such as the Renewables and LNG Statements of National Need. Given the importance of establishing a clear policy framework as soon as possible, we would hope that the Committee might wish to consider encouraging the Government to reinforce the existing Statements of National Need.

 

6.10 Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) - the objective of the CIL is to require developers to contribute towards the additional local and regional infrastructure (schools, hospitals etc) arising from their developments. This is a logical development, which we would support. However, the inclusion of energy infrastructure projects seems perverse. The industry understandably believes that energy infrastructure projects should be exempt from CIL on the grounds that:

 

Energy infrastructure is part of the very infrastructure that CIL is seeking to support and provide;

 

Whilst CIL is payable upon the uplift in land value resulting from a development, and in most cases there is no increase in land value from energy infrastructure developments, developers would nevertheless be forced to incur additional costs and administrative burden to prove this, despite no resultant fiscal benefit to the local or regional authority;

 

Energy projects already contribute to community development through Section(S)106 Agreements (under the Town and Country Planning regime),

 

Energy infrastructure projects do not generally lead to the need for increased community infrastructure and where they do (e.g. requiring necessary local highway improvements or direct utility service connections), they typically meet the cost of providing those directly;

 

The energy sector believes that an enhanced S106 with greater transparency, and a possible 70% / 30% local / regional split would deliver a much better solution for the communities affected by its infrastructure investments.

 

6.11 Town and Country Planning regime - The industry believes the efficiency improvements proposed for the Town and Country Planning regime are very important. In addition, the intention to place a new duty on local authorities to take action on climate change through local plans will potentially support the development of lower carbon energy including the potential growth of distributed generation and micro generation. These are both welcome developments.

 


6.12 Town and Country Planning regime - Whilst the recently published PPS1 Supplement on Climate Change is helpful, the industry remains of the view that it is important that Section 19 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 is amended to require that significant weight is given to National Policy Statements in the preparation by local authorities of their Local Development Plans etc. If it is to prove effective in clarifying the status of National Policy Statements within the planning policy hierarchy, it is essential that this amendment is embodied on the face of the new Planning Bill, as opposed to simply lying within the planning guidance

 

6.13 Definition of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects - the industry believes that a unified consents process for nationally significant infrastructure projects will provide greater clarity for developers and communities alike. However, as currently drafted the Bill does not include gas storage or LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) import facility projects, nor does it cover all gas pipelines and essential ancillary infrastructure. Given the Governments concerns about the UK's security of gas supply, and the contribution that LNG and gas storage, coupled with the necessary connecting infrastructure, can make in ensuring that the UK is able to import sufficient gas as the decline of the UK Continental Shelf continues, these omissions need to be righted.

 

Areas Requiring Further Clarification

 

7.0 Whilst supporting the reform package as a whole, the industry would welcome clarification on a few key areas that could potentially reduce the reforms' effectiveness:

 

The Parliamentary scrutiny for National Policy Statements;

The interplay between different jurisdictions on planning consents - England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - especially given energy policy is a reserved matter and planning policy a devolved matter - and the complexities that this causes, particularly in Scotland - we are keen to understand how the Energy Act 1989 might work in Scotland post these planning reforms, and what status National Policy Statements will have north of the border;

Onshore and offshore regimes - the interaction with the draft Marine Bill, and in particular the need for alignment between the onshore and offshore consenting regimes;

Hierarchy of the suite of planning policies, statements and guidance - in particular the status of National Policy Statements within the Town and Country and Scottish and Welsh Planning regimes.

 

In addition we believe the Committee could helpfully seek to clarify with the Government the relationship between the Climate Change Bill and the Planning Bill, as there would be a strong logic to the targets that are enshrined in the Bill being a material and statutory part of the UK's planning regime.

 


Summary

 

8.0 The Government's reform proposals are a vital step towards delivering the billions of pounds of investment needed to create a secure, low carbon energy economy. However, the reforms also provide the opportunity for enhanced community consultation that must remain a core part of any planning process in order to maintain the public support essential for the challenging transition to a more carbon constrained, but secure, energy economy.

 

 

January 2008

 

 



[1] Members include Centrica, EDF Energy, E.ON UK, National Grid, RWE npower, Scottish and Southern Energy, Scottish Power and United Utilities. Strategic Partners include International Power, CE Electric and Renewable Energy Systems