Written evidence from West Coast Energy
Ltd (ARSS 121)|
The main purpose of the RSS was to provide a bridge
between national policy aspirations and local, site specific issues
which would be determined by local planning policies. This link
between national and local policy included understanding how the
government saw the regions moving forward, be it in terms of housing
or renewable energy. Every region had to play its part in reaching
targets which were set.
WCE acknowledge the governments Localism agenda in
which decisions which could potentially impact upon their locality
should be made by those communities. However, whilst removing
the regional tier within the system, it has created a reduced
emphasis on the national planning policy, which until new plans
are put in place, will reduce the expression of the need and wider
benefits of renewable energy proposals. This in turn could lead
to dramatically reduced progress in reaching the national renewable
WCE consider it critical that the RSS targets should
not be lost and should be placed elsewhere in order to ensure
there is a continuation of renewable energy generation in the
years to come.
As witnessed in most other major planning system
changes, long delays in primary legislation and policy formulation
can lead to great uncertainty. Taking this into account it is
of upmost importance that delays are minimised and crucially intermediate
plans or guidance relating to specific issues such as renewable
energy proposals are formulated and are given full government
backing. These measures will ensure that the uncertainty from
developers is reduced and the UK can continue to work towards
its binding targets.
WCE believe there are significant opportunities through
the either minor changes to existing policy frameworks or through
new policies and systems such as the National Planning Framework
and Local Enterprise Partnerships. It is imperative that the thrust
of renewable energy generation support is not lost from the national
level right down to the local level. Furthermore it is important
the industry does not lose targets which have been used to successfully
guide proposals through the planning process.
If these are not done, investment in on-shore renewables
could be severely hindered resulting in a dramatic decline in
the amount of proposals which can significantly increase the renewable
energy generation required to meet the UK's national targets and
1.1 This document provides evidence to the Communities
and Local Government Committee inquiry in the recent abolishment
of the Regional Spatial Strategies. It has been prepared and submitted
on behalf of West Coast Energy Ltd.
1.2 The Committee is undertaking an inquiry into
the revocation and abolition of regional spatial strategies and
has invited the submission of written evidence. Although the Committee
has specified it is focusing on issues around housing, it has
confirmed it will also consider:
The arrangements which should be put in place to
ensure appropriate cooperation between local planning authorities
on matters formerly covered by regional spatial strategies (eg
waste, minerals, flooding, the natural environment, renewable
How the data and research collated by the now-abolished
Regional Local Authority Leaders' Boards should be made available
to local authorities and what arrangements should be put in place
to ensure effective updating of that research and collection of
further research on matters crossing local authority boundaries.
1.3 It is upon these issues, but specifically
renewable energy, that this response will focus.
1.4 Whilst larger scale on-shore based electricity
generating assets (above 50MW) are expected to be determined by
a Secretary of State under the replacement for the Infrastructure
Planning Commission regime. However, from past and emerging trends
most land-based renewable energy schemes fall below the 50MW threshold
and so fall to be determined by the local planning system, which
is the subject of this inquiry.
2. WEST COAST
2.1 West Coast Energy Limited (WCE) is a leading
independent wind energy developer based in Mold, North Wales.
The company was established in 1996 and operates throughout the
UK. We specialise in the identification, design, planning and
development of wind energy projects through to construction and
2.2 As a result of our dynamic and innovative
approach, we have established an enviable track record of wind
energy development success by developing our own portfolio of
projects and forming strategic alliances and joint ventures with
key partners. Key projects include:
Cefn Croes, 58.5MWthe largest wind farm in
the UK when constructed.
Rhyl Flats (offshore), 90MWlargest operating
wind farm in Wales.
Tirgwynt, 24MWfirst large scale wind farm
proposal to be considered by Powys within the SSA Zone B.
Little Raith, 18MWfirst consented wind farm
2.3 WCE is presently involved in developing hundreds
of megawatts of wind power generation for our future renewable
energy needs, and to date, we have secured planning permission
for a range of onshore and offshore wind farms totalling in excess
of 570 Megawatts. The anticipated future development is extensive,
with 3 proposals in the planning system, a further five projects
anticipated to be submitted within the 2010-11 financial year,
and a further 25 projects at various stages of design and assessment.
WCE are developing these projects in order to help the UK meet
their renewable and climate change obligations
3. ROLE OF
3.1 RSS's emerged from the Planning and Compulsory
Purchase Act 2004 which abolished Structure Plans, and replaced
Regional Planning Guidance (RPG). RSS's were formally adopted
for each of the English Regions and by 2009 each region had an
adopted RSS. Since their formal adoption, RSS's have been part
of the Development Plan, however, prior to their adoption "consultation"
draft documents were considered to be a material consideration
as they indicated up to date direction of travel.
3.2 Section 38 (6) of The Planning and Compulsory
Purchase Act 2004 requires decisions must be made in accordance
with all development plan policies in existence at the point of
decision. For example, when a local planning authority or planning
inspector makes their decision, regard would be given to all policies
and information within formal adopted or near adoption plans including
RSS which were used to inform local planning policies. Taking
this into account it is clear that the regional level of policy
was an important component of the decision making process.
3.3 When taking into account renewable energy
policies within RSS's, guidance contained within Planning Policy
Statement 22: Renewable Energy indicated what is expected to be
included within any policy and guidance:
formulation of criteria based policies which proposals
can be assessed against;
spatial indication of where proposals could be located;
formulation of indicative regional targets for the
amount of renewable generation capacity which could be expected
from the region and sub region areas including generation from
wind, solar and biomass.
3.4 The main purpose of the RSS's was to provide
a bridge between national policy aspirations and local, site specific
issues which would be determined by local planning policies. This
link between national and local policy included understanding
how the government saw the regions moving forward, be it in terms
of housing or renewable energy. Every region had to play its part
in reaching targets which were set.
3.5 These policies and targets which were included
in all RSS's were formulated on the basis of extensive studies
and consultation whilst having regard to the real issue of national
targets for renewable generation. Policies and targets for renewable
energy generation were based on an evidence base showing what
should be achieved in order to meet the UK's binding targets.
The RSS's was used to link the national targets to the local policies
and decisions in order to ensure targets could be met and the
planning balance could be fully understood.
3.6 Taking this into account, the national need
for an increased contribution from renewable energy was a major
part of the development plan and was given considerable weight
in the decision making process taken local planning authority
officers, committees, planning inspectors and the SoS. The inclusion
of targets within the RSS's enabled the decision maker to fully
understand the regions' role in helping the UK to reach its renewable
energy generation targets. Furthermore, targets were used by developers
when selecting potential renewable energy sites in order to have
a steer as to where capacity was available in terms of planning
3.7 RSS targets and policies have been heavily
relied upon when striking the "need" balance between
acceptable impacts and renewable energy generation. This balance
is discussed in numerous planning decisions including a recent
decision at Carsington Pastures Wind Farm (Appeal Ref: APP/P1045/A/07/2054080).
Issues such as the potential impact upon the Peak District National
Park and archaeological remains were considered whilst taking
into account the contribution the proposal would have to the regional
and thus national renewable energy targets. Ultimately, in this
instance, the inspector found that the contribution to the regional
targets significantly outweighed any impacts pointing especially
to the targets and lack of progress from Derbyshire. It is clear
from this and many other consented schemes that a planning balance
has to be made between possible impacts and contribution to regional
targets. Furthermore the targets provide a meaningful and clear
way of dealing with the "need" of renewable energy schemes
and wider benefits of renewable proposals within the planning
4. THE IMPACT
4.1 It must be understood from the outset that
the abolishment of RSS's has come as no great surprise to the
industry or WCE. What has come as a surprise is the timeframe
emerging which is essentially resulting in a planning sector in
"limbo" when considering larger applications which would
have had a greater steer from RSS's plans and policies.
4.2 The removal of the RSS tier, without an immediate
replacement has resulted in some major issues for developers and
decisions makers alike. The following points being of most concern
The creation of a system where targets which would
help in understanding and arguing the planning balance for renewable
energy scheme being removed with no guidance or steer as to how
to determine proposals.
The creation of a system which has significant uncertainly
and inconsistency in decision making between each local authorities
within a said region and also at the appeal stage due to the removal
of a plan which contained robust and consistent guidance.
The potential for local authority officers and planning
inspectors to significantly reduce the weight given to renewable
energy schemes due to targets which were once within approved
policy simply being removed.
4.3 Taking the above in account, WCE's concern
is that as the connection between national climate change objectives
on the one hand, and local decision-making on the other, is weakened,
renewable energy developments will find it more difficult to satisfy
policy tests and gain consent. This is especially the case when
taking into account that no formal alternatives to the RSS approach
were or have been suggested and approved.
4.4 Further concern comes in relation to the
abolishment of renewable energy targets within the RSS which were
based on sound factual evidence including studies by some of the
UK's leading consultancies. To simply abolish these targets primarily
due to the Coalitions' desire to remove the regional element of
the planning process is entirely wrong especially considering
no other process has been formally approved. The letter issued
by CLG on 6 July 2010 relating to the revocation of the RSS's
was accompanied by a guidance note on the related implications.
Para 20 indicates that the evidence base associated with former
regional plans may be relevant and could be used by decision makers
when considering the potential for renewable and low carbon energy.
WCE consider this to be a positive move, although the guidance
makes no reference to how any evidence should be used and the
weight that should be given to such existing documents which once
supported the derivation of RSS targets.
5. THE FUTURE
5.1 WCE acknowledge the governments Localism
agenda in which decisions which could potentially impact upon
their locality should be made by those communities. This will
require developers like ourselves to increase and enhance the
amount of community liaison we undertake before and during the
planning process. However, whilst removing the regional tier within
the system, it has created a reduced emphasis on the national
planning policy, which until new plans are put in place, will
reduce the expression of the need and wider benefits of renewable
energy proposals. This in turn could lead to dramatically reduced
progress in reaching the national renewable energy targets.
5.2 It seems that in order to continue to tackle
the challenge of renewable energy generation, the following systems
and/or policies could be used:
5.3 New Local Plans
Part of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act
2004 required all local authorities to produce a "folder"
of local development plans which will outline the spatial planning
strategy for the local area.
These plans should provide strong policy support
for appropriate low carbon development. Furthermore, it is considered
that these plans provide a solid base in which to place the renewable
energy generation targets from the RSS. Adding or referring to
the RSS targets will emphasise the need for renewable energy proposals
when local authorities are considering such proposals.
Due to the government's intention to enable more
local decision-making, emerging and current plans should have
regard to the wider context and benefits of renewables, either
through policies in the Local Plan, or through guidance contained
within the new proposed national guidance.
5.4 County Council Policies
Should the government not consider local plans a
suitable place to insert the targets originally contained within
the RSS, WCE consider it critical that they should be placed elsewhere
in order to ensure there is a continuation of renewable energy
generation in the years to come.
County Councils, amongst other responsibilities,
retain authority of mineral extraction and waste policies within
their county. It seems there has been no particular indication
from the government that these will be replaced or abolished.
Taking this into consideration, the question which must be asked
is why have important strategic industries/services such as minerals
and waste been left untouched and an industry which is just as
important (if not more) to the national interest been severely
affected by the abolishment of RSS's and thus strategic targets?
In order to ensure the UK and in particular England
continues to work towards meeting the national target, WCE feel
important to have some form of targets. Owing to the type of work
County Councils undertake within the planning system they could
very easily lead themselves to increasingly work on renewable
energy policies and include these regional targets (albeit reduced
for their area) in order to ensure the local decision makers are
continually aware of the expectations of national policy and targets.
5.5 National Planning Framework
The current Government have expressed their desire
to deliver "a simple and consolidated national planning framework,
which will set out national economic and environmental priorities,
and how the planning system will deliver them."
WCE consider that sustainable development should
be a key theme throughout the document, including a strong presumption
for renewable energy generation. Without this clear support from
the national planning tier, it is hard to see where the weight
for the benefits of not only renewable energy but a low carbon
society can be provided in order to fully understand the planning
balance of such proposals.
It must be noted that the even with this extensive
support of renewable energy within the national tier, decisions
can be taken whilst having particular regard to the governments
5.6 Local Enterprise Partnerships
LEP's are intended to provide strategic leadership
in areas in order to tackle issues including planning, infrastructure
priorities and the transition to the low carbon economy. WCE considered
that LEP's present an opportunity to undertake that level of strategic
guidance and consideration of the move towards a Low Carbon Economy
should be an important requirement of the plans and proposals
brought forward by LEP's.
5.7 As witnessed in most other major planning
system changes, long delays in primary legislation and policy
formulation can lead to great uncertainty. Taking this into account
it is of upmost importance that delays are minimised and crucially
intermediate plans or guidance relating to specific issues such
as renewable energy proposals are formulated and are given full
government backing. These two measures will ensure that the uncertainty
from developers is reduced and the UK can continue to work towards
its binding targets.
6.1. With the abolishment of the RSS and subsequent
loss of regional targets, the key aim for industry is to have
a mechanism that ensures that the national imperative to secure
more renewable energy generation is translated down to a local
level as effectively as possible.
6.2. WCE believe there are significant opportunities
through the either minor changes to existing policy frameworks
or through new policies and systems such as the National Planning
Framework and Local Enterprise Partnerships. It is imperative
that the thrust of renewable energy generation support is not
lost from the national level right down to the local level. Furthermore
it is important the industry does not lose targets which have
been used to successfully guide proposals through the planning
6.3. If these are not done, investment in on-shore
renewables could be severely hindered resulting in a dramatic
decline in the amount of proposals which can significantly increase
the renewable energy generation required to meet the UK's national
targets and obligations.