Memorandum submitted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (NPS 11)
1. We welcome the opportunity to submit evidence to the Energy and Climate Change Committee on the proposals for energy National Policy Statements (NPSs). As a leading environmental charity, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has worked to promote and protect the beauty, tranquillity and diversity of rural England by encouraging the sustainable use of land and other natural resources since our formation in 1926.
2. We see the planning system as an essential tool for protecting and enhancing the countryside. We are one of the leading voluntary organisations engaged in both shaping and operating the land use planning system at all levels. Through our network of local branches, which operate in every county, and our regional groups, we engage in the planning process on a daily basis.
3. A prominent part of our recent engagement in planning has been in the debate on planning for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs), both in relation to national policy, and in responding to specific applications. Although CPRE raised significant concerns about the reforms recommended by the Planning White Paper (2007) and implemented by the Planning Act 2008, we have long supported the principle of national policy statements. NPSs will play a critical role in our national planning framework and will shape key decisions on long-lived infrastructure and patterns of development. In this context, getting them right, both in terms of content and process, is essential.
4. CPRE recognises the urgent need for low carbon energy infrastructure and the challenge climate change poses, but we believe that the energy NPSs need to be further developed before they can be designated. While we support the development of NPSs in principle we believe that it is essential that we do not rush to meet an artificial political deadline in developing these documents. To be effective NPSs will need public legitimacy; allowing adequate scrutiny and time to amend the NPSs in light of public concerns is vital.
5. In making recommendations to Government about the draft NPSs we propose that the Committee consider the following key points:
· The NPSs should set out a spatial vision for the future development of energy infrastructure and should be effectively integrated with existing PPSs. If the documents provide a stronger steer to decision-makers about the optimum locations for new energy infrastructure, it is more likely that future energy infrastructure will be developed in a coherent manner which integrates environmental, social and economic concerns. The documents do not need to be site specific, but more detailed criteria should be included in the documents to ensure applications come forward for projects in the most appropriate locations. Providing more spatial criteria is likely to reduce uncertainty for developers and the public, which should allow for more rapid development of necessary infrastructure.
· The NPSs should not assert an unlimited need for new energy generation. The case has not been made for unlimited, 'one-dimensional' need for all forms of energy infrastructure. Requiring the IPC to assess applications on this basis undermines the ability of planning to integrate and balance competing uses of land, and to ensure that the infrastructure that is built matches emissions targets and community aspirations. The Government should redraft EN-1 to establish broadly how much of each technology they believe is needed in relation to security of supply and emissions targets, and this should guide both the IPC and applicants.
· Getting the right balance between national need and local adverse impacts will be one of the IPC's biggest challenges. The guidance in the draft NPSs on how the IPC should consider local impacts, whether raised in Local Impact Reports by local authorities or by third parties, is totally insufficient. At present, it is difficult to imagine how negative local impacts could outweigh national need as currently expressed in the NPSs.
· The aim of the NPSs is to establish medium-to-long term national positions which will largely determine the shape of the future energy system. It is intended that these positions will not be reconsidered when individual applications are being determined by the IPC. Before curtailing further debate on these contentious, strategic issues it is essential that there is a full national public consultation which includes provisions for iterative debate. We are not calling for unnecessary delay and do not envisage that this should take an undue amount of time. We believe, however, that the Government is currently taking a 'tick box' approach to consultation, rather than encouraging genuine input.
· The objectives of the NPSs have been drawn so narrowly in relation to the Appraisal of Sustainability that all reasonable alternatives have been excluded. This applies both at the strategic level and at the level of eventual IPC scrutiny of individual projects. Empowering the IPC to consider reasonable alternatives and requiring applicants to provide evidence on these alternatives is not incompatible with a swift and effective decision-making structure and not doing so is likely to be unlawful.
A coherent and practical planning framework
NPSs as planning policy documents
6. As Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 1: Delivering Sustainable Development highlights, sustainable development is the core principle underpinning planning. When planning is undertaken well, it should be a positive process, which operates to promote the public interest by preparing plans of, and control over, the development and use of land. In order to fulfil this function in an integrated fashion, planning policies at local, regional and national level must operate to deliver the four aims of sustainable development set out in the Government's Strategy for Sustainable Development (1999). These are:
· social progress which recognises the needs of everyone;
· effective protection of the environment;
· the prudent use of natural resources; and
· the maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.
7. Moreover, clause 10 of the Planning Act 2008 requires the Secretary of State, when designating a NPS, to do so 'with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development'.
8. We do not believe that environmental, social and economic issues have been considered in a sufficiently integrated way in the draft energy NPSs to reflect sustainable development principles. It is clear that there is an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and to ensure an energy supply that meets the country's needs. But this urgency is not so acute as to justify a planning process which fails properly to consider the long term potential impacts, especially environmental impacts, of the most significant programme of energy-related development in decades. The value of planning lies substantially in aligning, integrating, and ultimately reconciling competing interests within the framework of the long term public interest. The NPSs place too much emphasis on a one-dimensional conception of need and fail to provide adequate guidance on, and show sufficient regard to, sustainability criteria. The draft documents also include too little information on how infrastructure should be located to minimise environmental impact and therefore should not be designated in their current form.
9. CPRE has supported the creation of NPSs in principle as a means to clarify national policy on major infrastructure projects in the past, but we do not believe that NPSs should override established planning policy as set out in Planning Policy Statements (PPSs) and Planning Policy Guidance (PPGs). EN-1 has not been drafted in the context of PPS1 which sets an overarching framework of sustainable development for the planning system as a whole. If EN-1 is intended to operate within the existing framework, we believe explicit reference should be made to PPS1, and the principles of sustainable development should be evident throughout the document. If, on the other hand, the intention is to change the overarching framework for energy infrastructure away from sustainable development the public should be consulted on this significant change to the planning system.
10. Although the NPSs were developed to guide the decisions of the IPC, they will also become material considerations for local authorities determining applications for energy infrastructure through the town and country planning system (paragraph 1.2.1). We believe in order to provide a planning framework for energy, the aim of EN-1 should be to provide an overview of the Government's energy policy, including in relation to renewable energy infrastructure, such as wave and tidal power, which the Government does not believe would currently deliver schemes that meet the IPC's thresholds. At the moment EN-1 is entitled Draft Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy but paragraph 1.3.1 explains that the document only 'sets out the Government's policy for delivery of major energy infrastructure', rather than a coherent statement of energy policy. Making EN-1 a more coherent overview would help direct local decision makers when they consider applications that fall below the IPC's thresholds and would contribute to a more coherent planning framework. The technology specific NPSs (EN-2 to EN-6) should provide guidance to the decision-makers in the IPC and for applicants in developing their applications for schemes above the IPC's thresholds.
11. If the NPSs are to fit more coherently into the existing planning framework, a more explicit link needs to be established between work at the regional and local level to plan for new energy infrastructure. We believe that there needs to be a clear link, for example, with the 'bottom-up' processes which aim to identify capacity for, and constraints to, the delivery of renewable energy infrastructure, such as those promoted by the Renewable Energy Strategy (UK RES) which states that the 'Office for Renewable Energy Deployment will provide up to £1.2 million of support to help all regions put in place a robust evidence-based assessment of their capacity for energy projects'. It is essential that the IPC's decisions do not override and contradict this important work.
12. Overall, we are concerned that the purpose of NPSs is not sufficiently defined. At present, the NPSs seem to be trying to achieve four aims: a minimal statement of Government energy policy sufficient only for IPC-level development control; partial justification for Government energy policy; guidance to the IPC on how to determine applications; and guidance to applicants on preparing applications. Planning reform at the local and regional level has tried to make the distinction between policy and guidance clearer, for example in Regional Spatial Strategies, and we feel the NPSs represent a backward step in this regard.
Spatial planning for energy infrastructure
13. CPRE has long advocated the benefits of a plan-led system. Compared with a simple development-control approach, developing long term plans within which decision-makers operate allows places to be shaped in a way which makes development coherent, and enables consideration of longer term benefits and drawbacks to different development options, with the result that development can be more beneficial to the wider environment. Development Plans are shaped by the views of communities who feed in through consultation exercises, but are also based on national policy and reasonable assessments of need and demand. Because draft EN-1 is clear that the NPS will prevail whenever conflict arises between a NPS and a development plan (paragraph 4.1.2), and because the NPSs do not promote an effective spatial planning approach, we are concerned that the NPSs in their current form will undermine a plan-led approach to energy development.
14. If the NPSs are to become effective strategic spatial planning documents, we believe they need to give a stronger steer to decision-makers about the optimum locations for new energy infrastructure. They do not need to be site specific, but more detailed criteria should be included in the documents to ensure applications come forward for projects located in the most appropriate locations. One way in which this might be achieved would be explicitly to expand and draw on the process for considering opportunities and constraints to renewables development at regional and local levels, as proposed in the UK RES and outlined above. This process aims to identify relevant spatial considerations for development and to develop energy targets which incorporate these considerations at a strategic level. Where schemes are proposed for locations that do not meet such criteria, a more spatially-literate suite of NPSs could require applicants to explain why this is the case.
15. In fact, there is already a precedent in draft EN-1 which draws on more spatially explicit strategic work done by the Electricity Networks Strategy Group (ENSG) (paragraph 3.8.5 onward). The government directs the IPC to have regard to this report when deciding on electricity transmission projects, but rather than seeking to build on the work of the ENSG, to assess this work strategically and from the perspective of sustainable development, and to create a set of criteria which could provide effective spatial guidance to the IPC, the NPS directs the IPC to disregard the ENSG report when considering projects not covered by it - effectively directing the IPC to disregard spatial considerations when these conflict with a proposal.
16. A similar presumption in favour of development where spatial considerations might suggest that development is inappropriate can be found in section 4.24.7. This directs the IPC to consider consenting major development in nationally designated areas where it will contribute to the national and regional economy - a new and potentially damaging consideration; contribute to meeting the essentially unlimited national need for energy infrastructure; and cost less than the significantly limited alternatives that the IPC is empowered to consider in section 4.4. This very substantially weakens the long-established approach to assessing major development proposals in nationally designated areas as set out in paragraph 22 of PPS7. The implication is that spatial planning is largely a barrier to development, and that spatial policies should be disregarded where they might restrict NSIPs. CPRE fears this could have hugely damaging consequences for our most valued landscapes, including National Parks and AONBs.
17. In developing the criteria proposed there also needs to be more cross referencing between the NPSs. In EN-2, Draft National Policy Statement for Fossil Fuel Electricity Generating Infrastructure, for example, there should be a clear statement that when considering locations for fossil fuel generating stations applicants should be required to consider the routes the associated transmission lines and potential Carbon Capture and Storage-related pipelines will take. Paragraph 4.9.2 of draft EN-1 states that the 'Planning Act aims to create a holistic planning regime' but it goes on to acknowledge that applications for generating stations may not always be submitted at the same time as applications for their associated infrastructure. Where an application does not cover the associated infrastructure, or they are not submitted in tandem, the IPC should still be required to take into consideration the likely impacts of it in determining the application for the generating station. Allowing separate bids for transmission lines and generation plants risks predetermining the later project, and recent examples of proposals for transmission lines - especially the Bramford to Twinstead overhead line, which is referred to as the 'Sizewell C Connector' by the IPC - do not suggest that the NPS will deliver an integrated planning regime.
18. If they are to be effective strategic planning documents, CPRE also believes that the NPSs should give the IPC a steer on the broad national energy mix the Government is trying to achieve. This should be legitimately within the scope of the NPSs as the Planning Act 2008 states that they may 'set out ... the amount, type or size of development ... which is appropriate nationally or for a specified area' (section 5(5)(a)).
19. Although there are projections of demand for different infrastructure types in the NPSs there is no indication, other than in draft EN-6, of how much of each technology is needed, or where different types of infrastructure should be located. Draft EN-1 actually adopts the opposite approach in stating that the IPC should start its assessment of applications on the basis that there is a significant need for all of the infrastructure covered by the energy NPSs except for nuclear (paragraphs, 3.7.1, 3.8.10, 3.9.8 and 3.10.8). Once the IPC has approved a number of schemes for a certain type of infrastructure it may be the case that approving further applications for new infrastructure of that type would not be appropriate for a range of technical and environmental reasons which do not relate to carbon emissions.
20. Guidance on cumulative impacts contained in the draft NPSs is also of concern to CPRE. We are particularly concerned that it fails adequately to address landscape impacts. This is because they focus narrowly on cumulative impacts of individual projects rather than taking an overview of the potential impacts of all of the new infrastructure the Government believes we need, has the potential to result in 'death by a thousand cuts'. A more strategic analysis of the whole programme could seek to avoid this and we are not confident that the market will deliver the strategic approach that is needed.
Balance between national need and local impacts
21. Planning for nationally significant infrastructure projects will always be relatively controversial. As the 2007 Planning White Paper recognised the benefits of infrastructure are often widely dispersed and enjoyed by society generally, while the impacts of the projects are felt mainly by those in the immediate vicinity of the installation. Getting the balance between national need and local adverse impacts right will be one of the IPC's biggest challenges. CPRE is disturbed at the relative lack of attention given to local impacts in the draft NPSs.
22. Local Impact Reports (LIRs) should play an important role in enabling the IPC to understand the local impacts a local authority believes a proposed scheme will have. In light of this role, it is disappointing that the guidance for local authorities on developing them has still not been published. Paragraph 4.1.1 in draft EN-1 sets out the key principles that the IPC should consider when determining applications and reference is made to these reports. CPRE is very concerned, however, that in some cases local authorities may not have sufficient resources to develop a LIR, or where they do they may not assess the full environmental, social and economic impacts on their area. In some cases it might be possible that a local authority would welcome the economic growth a proposed development would bring, so to encourage the IPC to approve the scheme may choose not to cover the full extent of the adverse impacts of a development or assess these fairly.
23. In such cases, evidence submitted by a third party may be crucial in ensuring the IPC is aware of all possible adverse affects so they can make an informed decision. Equally, third parties may bring forward evidence of further benefits of a scheme. Reference to the need for the IPC to consider carefully evidence from third parties when examining and determining applications for energy infrastructure should be referred to more explicitly in the draft NPSs.
24. Paragraph 4.1.1 also requires the IPC to consider local, regional and national environmental, social and economic benefits and adverse impacts of the applications. No guidance is given, however, on how such benefits and impacts should be considered against each other. This is an essential part of EN-1 that needs to be strengthened.
25. It is also important to note that the requirements above are preceded by the following:
'Given the level of need for energy infrastructure as set out in Part 3 of this NPS, if the development proposal is in accordance with this NPS and any relevant technology-specific NPS, then the IPC should operate on the basis that consent should be given, except to the extent that any of the exceptions set out in the Planning Act apply.'
26. Draft EN-1 generally lacks guidance on how the IPC should take forward their difficult role of balancing local adverse impacts with national benefits in their decision-making. Instead, the guidance repeatedly comes back to the conclusion that as the document has demonstrated a significant and urgent need for new major energy infrastructure limited weight should be placed on most other considerations.
27. Section 4.4 of draft EN1 on alternatives also needs to be redrafted to ensure that the IPC is required to try to establish whether the proposed project represents the best option. The energy infrastructure the IPC will be granting permission for is likely to be in place for decades; while there is a need for urgency in reducing our carbon emissions there is also a need for the IPC to ensure that development is of a high quality and in the most appropriate location. The third bullet point in paragraph 4.4.3, for example, should be deleted. If a site is proposed for development the IPC should judge it against suitable alternatives to ensure it is the most appropriate. It should not be for the IPC to speculate on whether an application may be submitted, in the future, on other vacant sites and therefore whether or not it should remain vacant. In determining an application, the IPC should be expected to be able to judge a proposal against alternative sites that are available at that time.
28. Moreover, CPRE does not support the suggestion in paragraph 4.4.3 (final bullet point) in relation to alternatives put forward by a third party. Our concerns about this are set out in more detail below.
Public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny
National debate on energy policy
29. In the existing planning system, major proposals are usually subject to public inquiries, which consider local factors alongside questions of national need and energy policy. This process subjects plans and policy to rigorous and independent scrutiny, which plays a key role in addressing legitimate concerns about new development, and also in demonstrating to the more sceptical sections of the public that the major issues have been aired and decisions to proceed are legitimate. Indeed, the Government has regularly cited the example of Sizewell B, which spent only 30 of the 340 days of hearings on local issues, as justification for the new planning system for nationally significant infrastructure on the basis that it is inefficient to repeatedly establish national policy. CPRE believes that the fact that previous public engagement in national infrastructure planning has focused on national issues is a demonstration of the deep public concern and interest in national energy policy. This merits equally deep commitment from government to enable effective public engagement and scrutiny in the development of national energy policy.
30. Unfortunately, the energy National Policy Statements consultation and scrutiny process seems to be proceeding at a pace dictated by the desire to deliver economic growth rather than by a desire to engage the public and secure a degree of public consent over the policy. This is evidenced by the very short notice given for public meetings on the proposed nuclear sites which resulted in only 34 people attended the consultation meeting in Hartlepool and low turnout in other meetings, the fact that the public consultation period has coincided with both the Christmas holidays and Copenhagen climate negotiations, and the accelerated timetable set for parliamentary scrutiny. Worse, although there is now a public consultation on the aspects of government energy policy set out in draft EN-1, the energy policy is incomplete and there is no established forum in which to cross-examine the Government's proposals. This represents a significant step backwards for public participation compared with the existing system.
31. CPRE does not want to slow the process of designating the NPSs down unnecessarily. Indeed, we believe taking more time to fully consult the public on the draft documents could reduce future delays due to opposition to specific applications at a later stage. In a recent project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, researchers considered the factors underlying public support and opposition to renewable energy technologies. The final report, Beyond Nimbyism: a multidisciplinary investigation of public engagement with renewable energy technologies, found that the perception that a developer was listening to local concerns and could be trusted was an important part of the decision-making process. The research concluded that rather than trying to dismiss and undermine legitimate questioning and criticism of particular renewable projects, industry and policy makers should instead focus on protecting and nurturing social consent for what is a key part of a low carbon future.
32. The wider implications of this research are worth serious consideration. CPRE's interpretation is that because the NPSs exclude many of the contentious issues for major developments from later consideration at an IPC inquiry, very substantial public engagement on the NPSs is required. The fact that the NPSs will be subject to consultation rather than independent scrutiny and that this consultation will take place at an abstract, seemingly remote, national level well before any public engagement is sought in relation to actual on-the-ground infrastructure poses a serious challenge. Because most people engage with national debates through the prism of local applications, there is a real danger that the public will only become aware of key debates over energy infrastructure after the decisions have already been taken. This risks creating public discontent without a legitimate process to deal with this discontent, and raises the spectre of judicial review and even direct action protests against particular infrastructure schemes, which would benefit nobody.
33. A starting point for achieving effective public involvement in the development of NPSs might be to articulate, in simple terms, the importance of the energy NPSs in relation to the existing planning system, and using examples of schemes that will be considered by the IPC to encourage people to engage in this debate.
34. Throughout the suite of energy NPSs, a number of limits on what the IPC should and should not consider when taking decisions are set out. This is a legitimate aim for a national policy statement, but CPRE contends that the national framework, in line with aspirations to ensure effective public engagement in environmental decision-making, should seek to allow swift but fair consideration of all relevant factors. Taken cumulatively, we believe that the issues which are excluded or compromised by the NPSs prevent fair consideration of many of the most important and environmentally-relevant elements of nationally significant infrastructure projects. Our initial analysis of issues excluded from consideration in the NPSs has focused on the overarching energy NPS.
35. The issue of need is discussed above, but is relevant to the consultation and scrutiny process because of the implications of 'blanket' need on the extent to which the public will feel that they can affect the outcomes of development. Put simply, because the relative weight of national need is not defined in relation to local impacts, and could reasonably be interpreted to be very significant, the identification of need explicitly as a benefit to be weighed against negative impacts of proposals seems to imply that the benefit of delivering infrastructure which helps to meet national need is as limitless as the claimed need for new energy infrastructure itself. The benefit of delivering infrastructure is explicitly set against more readily defined (and presumably limited) negative impacts on SSSIs (paragraph 4.18.11), ancient woodland (paragraph 4.18.14), protection of habitats (paragraph 4.18.17), dynamic coastlines and coastal processes (paragraph 4.20.10), flood risk (paragraph 4.22.13), landscape (paragraph 4.23.12), and open land (paragraph 4.25.17). Taken together, this explicit invocation of national need seems to trump most of the non-climate related environmental concerns, including landscape protection, which might motivate local engagement in the planning process for NSIPs.
b. Carbon implications of development
36. At the same time, although much of the justification for the creation of the IPC and NPS process relates to the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, it does not seem that the IPC will be able to consider how the carbon impacts of new development might affect carbon budgets. CPRE is not advocating that the IPC take charge of delivery of emissions targets, but as the IPC is the ultimate decision maker on the infrastructure that is likely to deliver the bulk of these targets, it seems paradoxical that they should have no regard to delivering emissions targets, and no guidance on the types of energy mix that would deliver our targets. We support the Environmental Audit Committee's suggestion that a link be established between the Committee on Climate Change's (CCC) carbon budgets and the IPC's guidance and we suggest that the most effective way of doing so is to be much clearer on the types of energy mix required to meet our carbon budgets within EN-1, and have this scrutinised by the CCC following the development of the carbon budgets. At the application level, emissions are a key environmental consideration which the IPC should be empowered to take evidence on and assess impartially, and which members of the public should have the right to scrutinise.
37. Draft EN-1 explicitly states that it does not establish a 'general policy requirement to consider alternatives or to establish whether the proposed project represents the best option' (paragraph 4.4.1). Instead, it notes that there are legal requirements for an assessment of alternatives in some cases, and seeks to limit the IPC's consideration of these, both with reference to the urgency of national need, but also as regards the role of third parties in proposing alternatives.
38. While we agree that the IPC should not encourage delay by assessing frivolous or unreasonable alternatives, we believe that the general presumption should be, in keeping with the spirit of the Habitats and EIA directives, for the IPC to be satisfied that all reasonable alternatives have been considered. Furthermore, we believe that where a reasonable alternative is proposed by a third party, it is unrealistic to place the onus for providing evidence for alternatives on this third party, especially for NSIPs, which by definition are large, complicated projects requiring substantial resources to provide adequate evidence for.
39. It is worth noting that the process for considering alternatives contrasts with the Government's approach on proposals for generating energy from the Severn Estuary, a potential energy NSIP. Concerns about the Government's SEA for the project have led to alternatives to a barrage being proposed by third parties. Where these have the possibility of providing power at a lower cost to the environment, the Government has undertaken to consider these third party alternatives. Similarly, in order to satisfy public demand for investigation of more inchoate alternatives, the Severn Embryonic Technologies Scheme is providing funding for the exploration of these. Although the Severn Estuary could provide around 4% of UK electricity, and might therefore host a particularly large project, it is not clear that this makes it a special case. A proposal for a twin reactor nuclear power station or a large coal-fired power station would produce similar amounts of power, and we believe that the generally more positive approach to third-party alternatives should prevail in the energy NPSs.
d. Assessment of the relative merits of different technologies
40. The summary of national need (paragraph 3.1) states that the 'IPC does not need to consider the relative advantages of one technology over another'. CPRE is concerned that this guidance, which is not expanded upon further in the document, is overly restrictive. While we recognise that Government energy policy is to allow the market to determine the overall energy mix, the NPS should be redrafted to explicitly clarify that the IPC should consider the relative advantages of technologies within a proposed project.
Appraisal of sustainability (AoS)
41. CPRE's analysis of the NPSs has not focused on the AoS in detail. However, we have reviewed the evidence submitted by the RSPB and WWF and support the analysis that reasonable alternatives for the NPSs were rejected inappropriately; that the opportunity to engage the public in national debate on existing policy on energy has been missed; and that the SEA focuses on the impact of the NPSs on the consenting process rather than the impact of the NPSs on the environment.
 IPC Programme of anticipated projects, 5 January. Available from http://infrastructure.independent.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/ProgrammeofProjects-5-Jan1.pdf
 See, for example, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath's statement on the National Policy Statements, HL Deb, 9 November 2009, c646
 See, for example, the response to Mark Williams' question on the attendance figures for the nuclear consultation events, HC Deb, 13 January 2010, c1049W
 Paragraph 71, Environmental Audit Committee, Third Report: Carbon budgets, January 2010