Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Written evidence from RWE Npower Renewables Ltd (RWE NRL) (ARSS 41)


For renewable energy in particular, RSS provided a link between national policy and site-specific issues to be determined by local policy. It ensured that the need for renewable energy was explicitly part of the development plan and provided a manifestation of the UK's obligations at a regional level.

Without the RSS the connection between national climate change objectives on the one hand, and local decision-making on the other, is weakened so industry has concern that renewable energy developments will find it more difficult to satisfy policy tests and gain consent. This threatens to reduce the pace of renewables development in England.

To address this, the National Framework should include clear guidance on the inclusion of positive policies for renewables deployment in local plans, and give statutory weight to national renewables targets.

Local Enterprise Partnerships could produce strategic guidance that can guide the level of renewable development necessary in each area, consistent with the sensitivities of each local area. This should be a requirement for Local Enterprise Partnerships.

The move towards a low carbon economy should be integral to local plans and to the strategies of Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Changes to the land use planning system in England should be consulted on and implemented without undue delay to avoid uncertainty and possible adverse impact on investment in renewables.

We support incentivisation of renewables in the form of business rates from renewable energy schemes being directed to the local authority.

The retention of a strategic evidence base for renewable energy is crucial, and the assemblage of such an evidence base would be best placed at a tier higher than local authority.

The key aim for industry is to have a mechanism that ensures that the national imperative to secure more renewables more quickly is translated down to a local level as effectively as possible, leading to balanced and consistent decision-making.


1.1  This evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry into the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies is provided on behalf of RWE Npower Renewables Ltd, part of the RWE Group.

1.2  Although the Committee has specified it is focusing on issues around housing, 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 energy).

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  This response focuses on these issues, specifically in relation to renewable energy.

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, most land-based renewable energy schemes fall below that threshold and so fall to be determined by the local planning system, which is the subject of this inquiry.


2.1  RWE NRL is a major UK based renewable energy company, focussed on the development and operation of renewable sources of electricity for supply to the UK electricity grid network. RWE NRL's generation contributes towards UK targets for renewable generating capacity, and the electricity produced contributes to the satisfaction of national and EU commitments on the percentage of energy supply to be delivered from renewable sources. RWE is committed to investing over €1.4 billion per annum in new renewable capacity in Europe. Given the right regulatory framework, we are keen to direct a large proportion of this investment to the UK.

2.2  RWE NRL operates 22 onshore wind farms in the UK with a total installed capacity of 423 megawatts, with a further 15 consented onshore wind farms at various stages of the construction process. The anticipated development pipeline is extensive, with 15 proposals in the planning system and further projects at various stages of design and assessment. RWE NRL see these projects as important contributions to meeting the UK renewables and climate change obligations

2.3  RWE NRL is also very active in the development, construction and operation of significant offshore wind farms; operates 18 hydroelectric generating stations with others in development; operates three biomass co-firing power stations and is investing €235 million in a new biomass plant in Scotland.


3.1  There will need to be a substantial investment in the UK's electricity generating plant over the next few years. This is due at least in part to the decommissioning of existing nuclear and conventional plant as it ages. This coincides with the need to move towards the use of low-carbon technologies across the energy sector in order that the UK's low carbon sustainability obligations can be met. The Government's renewable energy target is to generate 10% of UK electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010 and its aspiration, as set out in the Energy White Paper 2007, is for this level to double by 2020. The Coalition Government's aim is to increase the target for energy from renewable sources, subject to advice from the Climate Change Committee.

3.2  As a minimum, the UK must meet its legally binding target of 15% of energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020 set out in the EU Renewables Directive, contained within the EU Climate and Energy Package. The UK Renewable Energy Strategy (July 2009) sets out the means by which the UK can meet this legally binding target of 15% of energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. Building on the aspiration set out in the White Paper, the Renewable Energy Strategy sets out a 'lead scenario' of at least 30% of electricity to come from renewable sources.

3.3  Bringing this investment to fruition requires a predictable and efficient planning system. The development of new proposals can take many years before reaching construction, and business needs confidence in the consenting process if it is to justify that initial investment. Both the Low Carbon Strategy and the RES highlight that delays in the planning system is one of the major obstacles to delivery. The uncertainty arising from the removal of strategic planning risks worsening this situation.


4.1  The requirement for RSSs came out of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 as a replacement for the County-level Structure Plans. RSSs were formally adopted for each of the English Regions on different dates in 2008 and 2009, and have been part of the Development Plan since their date of formal adoption. In addition, prior to their formal adoption consultation draft documents were considered to be a material consideration as they indicated direction of travel.

4.2  The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 section 38(6) requires that planning decisions must be made in accordance with the development plan (ie including policies in the RSS) unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The RSS policies have therefore been an important component of the decision making process—both at local level, and at higher level by planning Inspectors or by Secretaries of State.

4.3  With respect to renewable energy, the guidance in Planning Policy Statement 22: Renewable Energy (PPS 22) indicated what Government expected RSSs to include. This was to include criteria-based policies against which individual proposals might be assessed, some spatial indication of where those criteria might be met, and regional targets for the amount of renewable generating capacity to be brought forward. Those regional targets were not to include any contributions from offshore renewables, and could be broken down into indicative sub-regional targets.

4.4  The role of the RSS was to provide a link between national policy and site-specific issues to be determined by local policy. The policies and targets adopted in RSS were arrived at following extensive consultation within each region, and having regard to the national targets for renewable generation. In renewable energy terms the strategic policies drew upon an evidence base to demonstrate what could and should be achieved at a strategic level if the UK was to meet its obligations. They were therefore a manifestation at the regional level of the UK's national obligations and intentions.

4.5  As a result, the national need for a growing contribution from renewables was explicitly part of the development plan and was given substantial weight in planning decisions taken both by local planning authorities, and by planning inspectors and Secretaries of State at appeal. The inclusion of targets enabled the national need for renewable energy, embodied by a variety of legally binding targets to reduce CO2 emissions, to be expressed in a form more readily comprehended and utilised by local decision-makers.

4.6  There are many examples of where Inspectors and Secretaries of State have taken explicit account of RSS policies and targets. A recent example is that of the Green Rigg Fell Wind Farm, Northumberland,[53] where the Secretary of State concluded that the targets set out in the RSS are material considerations in his determination of this appeal, and he agreed with the Inspector that greater urgency must therefore attach to securing appropriate development to meet those targets.

4.7  The existence of such targets does not over-ride other environmental and planning considerations, and there are other examples where local environmental impacts have led to refusal, notwithstanding the shortfall against targets. However, what the targets do provide is a meaningful and clear way of dealing with the need and wider benefits of renewable proposals within the planning balance.


5.1  The clear dangers resulting from the removal of the RSS tier of the development plan are three-fold:

(i)  The creation of uncertainty and inconsistency in decision-making between local authorities, and also at the appeal stage, through the removal of consistent guidance.

(ii)  The creation of a difficulty for the decision-maker in judging how to weigh the renewable energy benefits of a proposal against the local impacts.

(iii)  The potential diminution in the weight to be given to the need and wider benefits of renewable energy proposals.

5.2  The loss of the regional targets does not in any way remove or reduce the national imperative to deliver renewable energy, and therefore the weight to be attributed to the benefits of renewable energy schemes in the planning balance should not be diminished. However, there is a clear potential for this to happen.

5.3  As an example of how this might happen, intentionally or not, reference may be made to the decision of the Secretary of State on 22 June 2010 for a wind farm proposal at Westfield Lane, Wakefield. This decision was made after the Secretary of State had written on 27 May 2010 stating the intention to withdraw RSS, but before the formal revocation had occurred. In his decision, the Secretary of State records that he gave the Regional Strategy "less weight" because of its impending demise (para 9), and that whilst the contribution the proposal would make towards meeting local regional and national targets, and its contribution to meeting the challenge of climate change were material considerations in favour of the proposal, the weight he gave to these benefits was "tempered" by the fact that he "affords less weight to the targets" set out in the Regional Strategy.

5.4  The concern of the industry, clearly, 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.


6.1  The intention to remove the regional tier of policy was well-signalled in advance of the General Election, and comes as no surprise. The needs of some infrastructure development can be catered for through the application of National Policy Statements and the development consent process which will replace the IPC. Most onshore renewables projects, however, fall to be determined by the local planning system.

6.2  Renewable energy development is in many ways strategic infrastructure in nature—it owes its existence to a national need for energy supply, and it comes forward as a direct response to the need to meet national climate change objectives. It doesn't usually come forward in response to local needs, either for energy supply, or for housing or employment or other local economic drivers. But, on a national level, it is acknowledged to be needed.

6.3  The industry acknowledges that under the Government's localism agenda local communities should so far as possible make the decisions that affect their locality. This will require the industry to listen harder and consult even better than hitherto. But even so, without some expression of the need for and wider benefits of renewables in a way that is meaningful for local communities and decision makers, we fear that progress towards renewables objectives will falter.

6.4  The resolution of these difficulties seems to lie in the following:

6.5  National Planning Framework

6.5.1  The Coalition Government programme set out the intention for "a simple and consolidated national planning framework covering all forms of development and setting out national economic, environmental and social priorities". We believe that this National Planning Framework needs to set out clearly the place of sustainable development—including, explicitly, the place of renewables—in national priorities, and provide for the relevant degree of weight to be given to this degree of priority in the preparation of new Local Plans. Such priority will be meaningless unless it has quantified targets attached to it at the national level.

6.5.2  Whether the need to accord weight to renewables—the national need and targets, and the wider social, economic and environmental benefits that the move to sustainable energy brings—is provided through the National Planning Framework or through a requirement for it to be included in Local Plans is as yet not clear. That those benefits need to be given weight in the planning balance does seem to us—for all the reasons given above—necessary if we are to meet our national climate change objectives.

6.5.3  This approach would not detract from the fundamentally local decisions to be made through the development plan or the development control processes, but would ensure that the wider context of the need for renewables is fully taken into account in the planning process.

6.6  Local Enterprise Partnerships

These are intended to provide strategic leadership in their areas, and to tackle issues including planning, infrastructure priorities and the transition to the low carbon economy. LEPs therefore present an opportunity to undertake that level of strategic guidance, worked out by cooperation between groupings of local authorities, that can helpfully guide the level of renewable development necessary, which is consistent with the sensitivities of each area. We believe that consideration of the move towards a Low Carbon Economy should be an integral requirement of the plans and proposals brought forward by LEPs.

6.7  Local Plans

The move towards a low carbon economy should be an integral requirement of Local Plans, and they should provide strong policy support for appropriate development that facilitates this. As indicated above, local decision-making will need to have regard to the wider context and benefits of renewables, either through policies in the Local Plan, or through the national policy framework.

6.8  Speed of Implementation

Major changes to the planning system inevitably give rise to uncertainty. It is therefore important that those changes that are proposed are consulted on widely and efficiently and then decisions made without undue delay, and promptly implemented.

6.9  Incentivisation

The government has previously stated that business rates from renewable energy schemes will be given to the local authority for local use, and this type of incentivisation is supported. Developers themselves also provide local economic, environmental and community benefit in association with their renewable energy schemes; flexibility will need to be retained if these benefits are to be designed to suit the needs of local communities.

6.10  A reliable evidence base

6.10.1  The letter issued by CLG on 6 July 2010 relating to the revocation of the RSS was accompanied by a guidance note on the related implications. Paragraph 20 indicates that the evidence base associated with former regional plans may be relevant when considering the potential for renewable and low carbon energy. It is felt this is 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 supported the derivation of RSS targets.

6.10.2  Furthermore, several regions were in the process of undertaking a review of renewable energy targets, some using standard criteria to assess the capacity of renewable energy produced by DECC.[54] The use of a standard way of assessing strategic capacity and setting local or higher level targets would be welcomed, as long as cumulatively across all local authority areas the capacity exceeded the need set out in national targets. This is imperative as the capacity assessment does not include many technical issues such as landowner agreement, access and site specific elements such as Listed Buildings which could further rule out a large proportion of sites.

6.10.3  The carrying out of such an evidence base would be best placed at a tier higher than local authority, as the capacity between district areas will not be equal. Some authority areas may be required to deliver a higher level, due to a lack of constraints when compared to neighbouring authorities which may be urban areas or national parks for example.


7.1  With the revocation of the RSS, the key aim for industry is to have a mechanism that ensures that the national imperative to secure more renewables more quickly is translated down to a local level as effectively as possible.

7.2  We believe there are opportunities through the National Planning Framework, through Local Enterprise Partnerships, and through the new Local Plans, to ensure that renewable energy proposals are given the appropriate weight in the planning process. If this is not done, investment in on-shore renewables could be severely hindered.

September 2010

53   CLG decision ref: APP/R2928/A/07/2039188, 25 March 2010, para. 33. Back

54   Renewable and low-carbon capacity assessment methodology for English Regions (DECC, March 2010). Back

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Prepared 31 March 2011