Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by RES (L 160)

Summary

About RES

The RES Group is a leading independent British renewable energy project developer with operations across Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific. RES UK & Ireland Ltd (RES) has been at the forefront of wind farm development in the UK and Ireland for the last 2 5 years. Our first project was Carland Cross Wind Farm in Cornwall, England, which started operating in 1992 and was only the UK’s second wind farm nationwide. We have developed more than 10% of the UK’s current installed wind energy capacity, including projects from the South West of England to Caithness in Scotland (the most northerly wind turbines on mainland Britain) across Wales and Northern Ireland to Cork in the west of Ireland . We have a large additional port fol io of projects under construction and in development, both onshore and offshore .

The RES Group is active in a range of other renewable energy technologies, including large-scale biomass and solar power generation, marine technologies and on-site heat, power and cooling technologies, as well as advising businesses on carbon-reduction solutions.

All of this gives RES a comprehensive and experienced perspective on issues that affect the renewable energy sector in the UK as a whole and we welcome the opportunity to contribute to the examination of the Localism Bill.

Planning for Renewable Energy

The growth of the renewable energy sector in the UK is essential in meeting the Coalition’s important objectives on energy security, climate change and a low carbon economy, with the jobs and manufacturing benefits this will bring.

A robust planning system is vital for our business and therefore we have taken great interest in the passage of the Localism Bill through Westminster.

RES supports the principle of ‘localism’. Local involvement in decision-making is essential in bringing about appropriate development that becomes a welcome local asset delivering economic, social and environmental benefits. RES has a good track record on community engagement and this has helped us develop and build low-impact and popular renewable energy projects that contribute to national energy objectives with minimal negative effects on local residents or the environment.

To continue this, we need a fast, consistent and democratic planning system that balances national energy policy priorities with local needs. Failure to strike the right balance will leave potential economic benefits to local communities locked in the planning system as well as putting at risk the necessary growth of the UK renewables sector and the achievement of legally-binding targets.

We have the following observations and evidence on the Localism Bill which we would like considered at the Committee stage:

1.0 Local Decision-Making in the National Context

1.1 Local/Neighbourhood Plans  

1.1.2 We welcome that Neighbourhood Plans and Local Plans will need to be in line with national policy. How will this be achieved in practice? We would recommend that the Local and Neighbourhood Plans should have regard to the National Policy Statements and that the NPSs should be a material consideration in planning decisions at the Town and Country Planning Act level (sub-50MW for renewables) , as well as at the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project level.

1.1.3 We would also like to seek clarity on what is considered a responsible body to set up a Neighbourhood Forum and devise the Neighbourhood Plan. What kind of process will be followed and how can people be confident that the process is proper, robust and accountable? For example, a suggested quorum of 3 for setting up Neighbourhood Forums for Neighbourhood Plans and Development Orders seems low. There must be democratic accountability - how can this be enforced?

     

1.2 National Planning Policy Framework

1.2.1 RES supports the principle of a National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for England. We believe that the Government’s proposals to consolidate existing circulars, policy statements and guidance into a single, streamlined document will be a useful tool for communicating the Government’s national planning objectives.

1.2.2 However, it will be important to find the right balance in the NPPF in order to ensure that the provision of clear and necessary direction on national policy priorities and appropriate planning procedures are not lost in the pursuit of a single, streamlined document. The NPPF will need to provide both policy and procedural direction to local authorities on a range of planning matters, from the development of local plans and policies through to the determination of individual applications. RES consider the Scottish Planning System to be a good model to follow in successfully gaining this balance between national objectives and local interests and recommend that the contrasting experiences of Scotland and Wales be given detailed consideration.

1.3 Sub-national strategic planning

1.3.1 We are encouraged by recognition of the need for a duty to co-operate on Councils. We would actively encourage Councils to form historic ties such as within County boundaries or through the new Local Enterprise Partnerships, though it should be noted that there will be areas that are appropriate for renewable energy development that are not covered by LEPs. How will the duty to co-operate be measured in achieving sustainable development objectives and how will it be enforced?

1.3.2 In addition to those issues affecting a single local authority area, it will be important for local authorities to co-operate effectively with one another in addressing strategic development issues (environmental, social and economic). We strongly recommend that local authorities be required to create joint plans, with other local authorities of their choosing in order to deliver positive environmental outcomes across England. We consider it important that direction be provided within the NPPF on how local authorities best go about the development of joint plan-making on strategic issues and identify the key issues of strategic importance, including planning for renewable energy, that should be included.

1.3.3 We also recommend that these joint infrastructure plans be incorporated within Local Development Frameworks and that they form part of every local authority’s local plan. In addition, RES would welcome greater clarity on the relationship between this document and (a) the Energy & Renewables NPSs and (b) the different tier plans incorporated within Local Development Frameworks. RES strongly recommend that the hierarchy and inter-relationship between different policy documents is clearly stated within the NPPF and would like to see that NPSs are a material; consideration in local decisions.

1.4 Planning for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (>50MW)

1.4.1 We are comfortable with the abolition of the IPC and its replacement with the MIPU within the Planning Inspectorate. This will maintain the positive aspects of the IPC process, which has streamlined decision-making for nationally significant infrastructure, placing decisions firmly in the context of national need, whilst improving public engagement and acceptance through greater front-loading and higher requirements for pre-application consultation. At the same time, the move to the Planning Inspectorate increases democratic accountability by resting the final decision with the relevant Minister. We would note the need for a smooth transition and sufficient resourcing within PINS to meet the stated goals of speed and efficiency.

2.0 Local Involvement in the Planning Process

2.1 Pre-application consultation

2.1.1 RES sees the benefit of greater front-loading in the planning system and stronger pre-application consultation requirements. We have as good practice engaged with Councils and stakeholders at an early stage of the development cycle for our renewable energy projects.  It is working particularly well for the large infrastructure planning process (see 1.4 above) and major development in Scotland and we’d like to see it applied to those determined at a local level in England.

2.1.2 We have attached in the Appendix 1 three examples from projects in the UK that are in different stages of the development cycle that demonstrate how effective pre-application consultation can be.

3.0 Local benefits and Referenda

3.1 Local Benefits from Renewable Energy Developments

3.1.1 We welcome moves to ensure that local communities receive more direct and tangible financial benefits from hosting a renewable energy project, for example, and are supportive of our industry’s greater commitment to this through the RenewableUK Community Benefit Protocol, launched in February. We believe that the nature of the benefit should be determined by all stakeholders on a project-by-project basis, rather than being prescriptive or mandatory. Our own research, conducted by Populus and released in early 2011, demonstrates for example, the popularity of renewables and wind energy amongst the public, that greater community benefit will improve acceptability further, that schemes should be designed on a case-by-case basis with the local community; that current community benefit funds are operating successfully; but that there is an appetite for alternatives such as discounted electricity.

3.1.2 We would like community benefits to be a material part of the planning system as suggested in the Bill drafting. Whilst socio-economic benefits should not be an over-riding factor in decision-making, they are an important consideration to weigh in the balance when considering the overall benefits and potential impacts of a project.

3.2 Referenda

3.2.1 It is currently uncertain as to whether proposed provisions regarding the use of referenda, as currently being discussed within the Localism Bill, will have a relevance to planning. In the event that provisions may be enacted for referenda on any aspect of the planning process, such as plan-making procedures or decisions on individual applications, for example, national direction should be provided to local authorities within the NPPF.

3.2.2 We have concerns about the level of 5% set for the petition for a Local Referendum, as being too low. We seek clarity on the area considered ‘appropriate’ for the referendum to cover - Neighbourhood, Parish, District or County Council level?  We recommend that it should be the relevant planning authority that holds the referendum.  We are also concerned about it causing significant delays to projects, as a referendum could take 18 months to implement, when projects already suffer from delays in the planning process. We would also seek clarity on to what extent the outcome will be binding on the local authority or whether the result is something that they must simply consider in their decision as they weigh up the issues.

4.0 Risks

4.1. 2km residential buffer being applied to onshore wind farm development

4.1.1 We would have serious concerns about the application of buffer zones. It is a blunt instrument that does not take into account the various considerations in siting a wind farm. Decisions on the appropriateness of a site must be made on a case-by-case basis with the input of local stakeholders. As such, the buffer zone approach appears to go against the spirit and objectives of localism. We have done analysis which illustrates how a 2km buffer zone would effectively sterilise all onshore wind farm development in England and would be happy to share this with the Committee.

4.2 Appeal System

4.2.1 We are encouraged that the Bill proposed no change to the appeals system and welcome the Minister’s position on this.

4.2.2 RES strongly recommends that the Localism Bill does not include Third Party Right Appeal ( TPRA) for the following reasons:

4.2.2.1 The Bill will hopefully strengthen the participation of local people at an earlier stage in the planning process, where they could influence the form and content of development plans and then the detail of development proposals in planning applications thus avoid the need for TPRA. The best consultation occurs at the beginning of the process rather than at the end with adversarial inquiries or hearings.

4.2.2.2 Adding a new right of appeal against decisions to grant planning permission would inevitably build new delays and unpredictability into the system, which would add costs to development and therefore could act as a deterrent to the investment. TPRA would add significant costs and time to the renewables industry by handing a potent weapon to a small but well organized minority to slow and disrupt the planning system by using TPRA against otherwise sound renewable energy proposals.

4.2.2.3 Introducing a new right of appeal would risk undermining local authority decision making.

4.3 Assets of Community Value

4.3.1 We would like to seek clarity on the process for registering such areas and the weight given to such classification in the planning system.

4.4 Budget Constraints & Policy Vacuum

4.4.1 With DCLG funding cuts to Local Authorities and Statutory Consultees it will be difficult for them to implement the outcomes of the Localism Bill and the NPPF (when it is published) at a Sub National and Local/Neighbourhood level. We would be encouraged if the Government set aside specific funding for Planning Policy to help provide a smooth transition to this system so there is no policy vacuum. If Local Enterprise Partnership are to take responsibility for sub national planning policy then they need to be adequately funded.

APPENDIX 1

Keadby, North Lincolnshire District Council

Section 36. 34 (68MW) wind turbine project consented in 2008.

As part of discharging the Transport Management Plan condition and through public consultation we amended our turbine delivery route to avoid surrounding villages. This meant we had to submit a bridge application for an alternative route to site. As you can see from the attached leaflet this was well received by the community and Local Planning Authority.

North Blyth, Northumberland Unitary Authority (NUA)IPC application for 100MW Biomass Power Plant.

RES undertook, as part of the IPC pre-scoping submission process, consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including local residents, NUA, and the Environment Agency (EA) on a proposed location for a biomass power plant on the south bank of the River Blyth. This resulted in the following issues being identified: site access – site was on busy arterial road; cable route through a SSSI; no rail access possible; extensive river works to improve the wharf; proximity to residential dwellings (both existing and proposed) and a new school. Through consultation the site was moved to the north bank of the River Blyth to address these issues and this was supported by the local community, EA and NUA. After the site was moved further pre-application consultation has continued on, for example, the architectural design of the biomass plant and the environmental and technical studies undertaken so far. Consultation activities have included exhibitions, newsletters, surveys, website, meetings and Freepost and Freephone enquiry lines. The consultee responses have been taken into account. The engagement with consultees so far has been constructive and positive. Please see attached display material that illustrates these points.

Glencamber, Dumfries & Galloway Council11 turbine (25.3MW) scheme submitted to Dumfries and Galloway Council in October 2010.

Under the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006, which came into force in 2008, RES is required to submit a Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) report setting out how we will consult with the local community over our plans. We submitted our PAN to Dumfries and Galloway Council in May and this has been approved.

Along with our planning application we have submitted a Pre-Application Consultation (PAC) report.  This report documents the consultation process and details the comments made to us during the process and is attached. We have also included the results of the public exhibition questionnaires and telephone survey. 

RES consulted the local community through a variety of methods including: 

· Meetings and presentations to the community councils;

· A newsletter and invitation to the public exhibitions distributed to over 1,300 houses within a 12km radius of the wind farm;

· Meetings with local residents and local businesses;

· Public exhibitions held between 2nd  and 4th  September 2010, enabling residents to fill in questionnaires and leave comments;

· Formation of a Community Liaison Group;

· A dedicated project website www.glenchamber-windfarm.co.uk ;

· Telephone survey of local residents.

We have listened to the comments and concerns received; this is documented in our PAC Report.  Where appropriate we have has responded directly to comments raised or directed people to the relevant information provided during the consultation or independent sources.  We have improved the quality of our proposal through meaningful and productive consultation.

The PAC we find a very useful tool to feed into our design process and would encourage this route to be taken by DCLG rather than the Third party Right of Appeal. We find that the PAC highlights the main issues of a development and this can be rectified in the proposal submitted to the determining authority.

March 2011