Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Fifth Report



199. The UK's ability to meet its 2020 renewable energy target depends not only on technological development, but also on the timely deployment of market-ready technologies. We were therefore disappointed to find that current planning regulations are at best acting to delay the commercial deployment of renewable electricity installations[204], and at worst may function to discourage industry from investing in the UK.[205]

200. The onshore wind industry was consistently cited as a sector badly hit by delays in the planning and consenting regime. According to BWEA, only 5 per cent of applications for onshore wind projects are decided within the statutory 16 weeks, with several applications having been held up in the system for four to five years.[206] A common reason for the eventual refusal of consent for onshore wind is negative public opinion based on a lack of visual acceptability. This finding highlights an area in which research in the social sciences has the potential to impact on the deployment of renewable technologies, and is an issue we discuss later.

Planning policy

201. The Energy White Paper recognised that "although securing planning permission can be difficult for all types of electricity generation […] low carbon technologies face particular difficulties".[207] The Government's Planning Bill aims to address these challenges by (a) streamlining the consenting process for energy developments, (b) publishing a National Policy Statement on Energy, and (c) improving community engagement in the planning process. As planning is a devolved matter, these proposals will not impact upon the devolved administration.

202. The principal means of streamlining the consenting regime will be the creation of an independent Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC). The IPC will comprise a panel of experts who will decide on planning applications for national infrastructure projects. In the energy sector, the IPC will decide on onshore projects of 50 MW plus and offshore projects of 100 MW plus. There will be a time limit of nine months on the consenting process.

203. Once the IPC is established, developers will no longer need to apply for consent under different pieces of legislation for parts of the same project. Currently, for example, an onshore power station requires consent under the Electricity Act 1989 as well as planning permission for overhead electric lines. To align the consenting process for onshore and offshore developments, the draft Marine Bill makes provision for offshore generators to be considered through the Electricity Act 1989 procedure, and therefore by the IPC.[208]

204. The IPC will use National Policy Statements (NPSs) as their primary consideration. These statements will set out the national need for infrastructure and explain how this need fits with other policies such as those relating to economic development, international competitiveness, climate change, energy conservation/efficiency and protection of the historic and natural environment. The Government has announced its intention to publish an overarching NPS for energy developments. As outlined by the Minister, the Energy NPS will provide guidance on the deployment of renewable technologies:

    We will certainly have an over-arching national policy statement on energy […] We are expecting that that will be published sometime […] in 2009, but also under that we see the need for a number of other statements on renewables, obviously, and on nuclear.[209]

The Government will consult on the renewables element of the Energy NPS during Autumn 2008.

205. We note the proposal contained in the Planning Bill that consenting decisions on major infrastructure projects are to be decided by an Infrastructure Planning Committee (IPC). We look forward to further clarification of how the IPC will interact with, and address the concerns of, local authorities and other stakeholders.

Planning applications

206. Throughout our inquiry, the renewables industry expressed its support for the Planning Bill.[210] A common concern, however, was that the IPC would only decide on onshore developments with a capacity of 50 MW or greater and offshore projects with a capacity of 100 MW or more.[211]

207. In the onshore sector, 30-40 per cent of renewable projects currently submitted for planning determination are thought to fall below the 50 MW threshold required for IPC consideration.[212] Further, sites with the potential to support a 50 MW wind farm are relatively rare in England and Wales, and many of these will have been developed before the IPC comes into operation. It is therefore likely that a significant proportion of future renewable proposals, in particular onshore wind developments, will not be eligible for consent under the IPC.

208. The 100 MW threshold for IPC consideration of renewable installations in the offshore sector is also a point of concern. Wave and tidal devices are very much in the early development and demonstration phase of their life-cycle, and device developers are looking to deploy small-scale pilot projects.[213] These projects will not only fall below the 100 MW threshold, but are likely to be less than 50 MW in capacity. Given these circumstances, the Renewable Energy Association has called for the offshore limit to be brought in line with that for the onshore sector (50 MW), and for consideration to be given to a further lowering of this limit.[214]

209. We are concerned that measures introduced in the Planning Bill will not materially affect the speed at which consenting decisions for smaller projects are reached. We urge the Department for Communities and Local Government to reconsider whether the thresholds for IPC consideration of onshore and offshore developments are appropriate.

Planning Policy Statement 22 (PPS22)

210. In considering energy infrastructure projects under 50MW, local authorities are required to consult guidance laid out in Planning Policy Statement 22 (PPS22). An underlying principle of PPS22 is that:

    Regional spatial strategies and local development documents should contain policies designed to promote and encourage, rather than restrict, the development of renewable energy resources. Regional planning bodies and local planning authorities should recognise the full range of renewable energy sources, their differing characteristics, locational requirements and the potential for exploiting them subject to appropriate environmental safeguards.[215]

211. In their submission, the BWEA stated that 'renewable projects are often rejected for reasons that contravene PPS22'.[216] When we asked Kevin McCullough, RWE Innogy, to give us an industry perspective on the utility of PPS22 and its application by local authorities, he replied:

    PPS22 as an instrument and a policy guidance document is very sound […] but the weak point in the system is, in my view, in the education and understanding and the […] equality of application across the many, many authorities that have these planning applications to deal with, because at the moment there is a very definite emerging inequality in how one scheme is treated in one authority to the other.[217]

Mr McCullough went on express the view that, if inconsistencies in the application of PPS22 were not rectified, developers would begin to selectively develop sites in areas where "they think their chance with planning is greater".[218]

212. The equitable application of PPS22 by local authorities is crucial to maintaining investor confidence. We asked Simon Virley, BERR, what guidance the Government will give local authorities on the implementation of new renewables planning policy. He responded:

    I think the National Policy Statements […] will be very important here in terms of setting the framework for local authorities, and then they will be translated into local and regional strategies, so that clear guidance will be coming in the form of the National Policy Statements.[219]

This response fails to recognise that it is not the efficacy of current planning guidance on renewable installations that is in question, but the equity of its application.

213. We are concerned that a local authority's reputation in the application of PPS22 may become the deciding factor in an investor's choice of site location, rather than the specifics of the site itself. We recommend that 'best practice' in the application of PPS22 be developed and disseminated as a priority.

Environmental considerations

214. During the planning process, consideration must be given to the environmental impact of the development in question. No energy source is completely harmless to the environment and for each technology, there is a trade-off between the wider benefits (e.g. energy security and lower carbon emissions), and their social and local environmental impacts (potential impacts on populations of seabirds and aquatic mammals, for example).[220]

Environmental Impact Assessments

215. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a procedure that must be followed for certain types of development, such as the deployment of renewable electricity-generation devices, before they are granted development consent. Mandated by a European Directive (85/33/EEC as amended by 97/11/EC), EIA requires developers to compile an Environmental Statement describing the likely significant effects of the development on the environment and proposed mitigation measures. The Statement is circulated to statutory consultation bodies and made available to the public for comment. Its contents, together with any comments, must be taken into account by the competent authority (e.g. local planning authority) before it may grant consent.

216. The costs associated with the EIA can represent a significant financial burden to companies attempting to develop pioneering marine renewables projects. The BWEA told us that:

    These are small developments, using technologies that are new. The latter feature leads to demands for comprehensive surveying and monitoring to assess what is and is not an issue, which makes them particularly burdensome on pilot projects of one or a handful of devices. A proportional approach by statutory conservation consultees would be welcome to reduce this burden to the absolute minimum required, and extra help from Government in carrying out such surveys and monitoring required would also be very helpful.[221]

The high cost of the EIA for offshore developments is highlighted by the budget allocation of Marine Current Turbine's Seagen project. The total budget for this tidal turbine development was £8million of which £2million was for the EIA.[222]

217. We note that the forthcoming NPS on energy is expected to contain a list of criteria for offshore wind sites, and a list of sites that meet those criteria. The Minister assured us that the EIAs for these sites would be conducted by BERR rather than being left to developers.[223] In order to further support the offshore marine industry, and to prevent the cost of the EIA from deterring developers from investing in marine renewables projects, the Renewable Energy Association suggested that the Government also provide developers with baseline EIAs for potential locations of high wave and tidal stream energy.[224]

218. We recommend that the Government provide baseline Environmental Impact Assessments for areas suitable for all offshore renewables projects, and that it liaise with industry to ensure these assessments are appropriate to their needs.

204   Ev 71, 105, 121, 129, 133, 139, 157, 168, 175, 180, 242, 244, 257, 279, 300, 322; Qq 11, 80, 88, 209, 210, 212 Back

205   Q 248, Sustainable Development Commission, Lost in transmission: the role of Ofgem in a changing climate (2007), p66  Back

206   Ev 257 Back

207   HM Treasury, Meeting the Energy Challenge, Cm 7214, May 2007, p 256 Back

208   Defra, Draft Marine Bill, Cm 7351, April 2008, p 38 Back

209   Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence taken before the Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee on 31 January 2008, HC (2007-08) 293-i,Q 129 Back

210   Ev 108, 175, 257; Q 211-213 Back

211   Ev 257; Q 214 Back

212   Ev 335, 373; Q 211 Back

213   Q 210 Back

214   Ev 384 Back

215   Office of Deputy Prime Minister, Planning Policy Statement 22: renewable energy, 2004, p 7 Back

216   Ev 258 Back

217   Q 216 Back

218   Q 211 Back

219   Q 452 Back

220   Ev 120, 187, & Boyle, G. (Ed), Renewable energy, (Oxford University Press, 2004) Back

221   Ev 369 Back

222   Ev 151 Back

223   Qq 425-426 Back

224   Ev 288 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 19 June 2008