The revised draft National Policy Statements on energy - Energy and Climate Change Contents

4  NPSs and the planning system

52. The suite of energy NPSs forms a new tier in the set of planning documents. Their purpose is to define government policy for the purpose of making timely and necessary decisions on applications for planning consent for major infrastructure developments. There is also a duty under section 19(2) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 for local planning authorities to have regard to national policies when preparing development plans, so the NPSs form a part of the wider planning system.

53. This section considers how the revised NPSs will function as planning documents, considering how they fit into the planning system and whether they require a more spatial, strategic approach. Changes to the Planning Act are considered in the subsequent section.

Strategic spatial planning

54. Section 5(5) of the Planning Act 2008 sets out the power for NPSs to include criteria relating to specific locations but the Government has chosen to make only EN-6, on nuclear energy, site-specific. Instead, the Government intends that the NPSs would rely on the market to locate significant infrastructure projects. Our predecessor Committee suggested that "there are ways in which the non-nuclear NPSs could take greater account of spatial issues", such as strategic improvements in transmission networks, in order to "provide valuable guidance and an incentive to bring applications forward in the most appropriate locations" without constraining the choice of sites available.[68]

55. The Government rejected this idea, stating that "developers are best placed to decide where energy infrastructure should be based". It also argued that including strategic guidance for locating NSIPs could cause "planning blight" elsewhere.[69] This statement was challenged by witnesses. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) told us that "a more spatially explicit framework" would improve the investment environment for large infrastructure projects, reduce delays and guard against inadvisable developments. The NPSs, they believed, should "be much more explicit about where things should or should not go,". [70] CPRE cited the example of Triton Knoll substation off the east coast of England which, they say, has been planned without regard for the 40 km of power lines that would be necessary to connect it up to the grid. [71]

The planning system

56. Our predecessors considered a national spatial strategy as one means of providing a level of strategic spatial guidance for the NPSs, concluding that "the Government has not fully explored the potential for some form of English national spatial strategy".[72]

57. Since then, the Coalition Government has elaborated on its plans for a National Planning Framework, covering all forms of development and setting out national economic, environmental and social priorities. This will form the context for NPSs and is due to be released in April 2012.[73] The Department for Communities and Local Government claims that the Framework will give local people and communities "far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which they live by radically reforming the planning system".[74] RSPB were concerned that "there is still a degree of uncertainty about how the NPSs will relate to the rest of the planning system".[75] They suggested that "it will be very important for [the National Planning Framework] to relate quite closely to the national policy statements" and "that there continues to be some uncertainty".[76] CPRE recommended that the National Planning Framework should be considered and finalised at the same time as the Localism Bill in order to provide coherence to the reforms of the planning process.[77]

58. In addition, a National Infrastructure Plan was announced alongside the June 2010 Budget Report, which stated that "the Government will publish a national infrastructure plan that will set out goals for UK infrastructure. This will include priority public and private sector investments and proposals for delivering and supporting investment on a cross-sector basis".[78] Beneath this national level of planning policy, Clause 89 of the Localism Bill would formally revoke the Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) and repeal Part 5 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 under which they were made.

59. RenewableUK argued to us that "It is essential that the objectives of the [Planning] Act are not compromised by the planning reforms currently proposed by the Government". They added that "there is a real risk that root and branch reform of the town and country planning system in England could significantly delay the determination and deployment of smaller scale […] renewable energy infrastructure below 50 MW".[79]

60. The Government has set out on important, but potentially disruptive or even conflicting, reforms of the planning system in relative isolation from one another. We conclude that the National Planning Framework could provide strategic spatial direction to the National Policy Statements. The various changes to the planning system must be complementary. We therefore recommend that the development of the National Planning Framework and the National Infrastructure Plan, and the enactment of the Localism Bill, should be coordinated. The Localism Bill should not be enacted until the national planning framework and the national infrastructure plan are completed and active.

The visual impacts of infrastructure projects

61. Many of the developments which may be approved under the NPSs will have substantial visual impact on natural landscape and townscapes. We are particularly concerned by the Government's handling of networks infrastructure such as overground electricity lines, towers, poles, new substations and other above ground installations.

62. The assessment of impacts in EN-5 shows that there are major and uncertain negative aesthetic effects of networks infrastructure development in the short, medium and long term.[80] This is defined as "Problematical because of known sustainability issues; mitigation difficult and/or expensive; effect considered to be of national/ international significance".[81] The Appraisal of Sustainability for EN-5 notes that the development of linear features such as transmission lines has "the potential for negative effect in the short term during construction and in the medium to long term, particularly if construction occurs in sensitive areas. These effects may be cumulative where they coincide with substantive new developments (power stations)".[82] The AoS for EN-5 also recognises that the "electricity networks infrastructure has the potential to affect designated and non-designated ecology over a large area through, for example, disturbance and habitat loss and fragmentation".[83]

63. Part 2 of the AoS for EN-5 considers the option of "undergrounding" more transmission lines. This could raise transmission costs and would have uncertain effects on soil, water, ecology and archaeology. However, the long term effects of undergrounding on landscape, townscape and visual impacts would be extremely positive. This Part also explores how applying the presumption of "undergrounding" would affect particular types of designated landscape. This would reduce the visual impacts of energy networks infrastructure, while limiting any possible adverse economic and ecological impacts of undergrounding. The Government concluded that "decisions on undergrounding are best taken within a more flexible policy framework using case by case evaluation".[84]

64. One example of a small change between the original draft NPSs and the revised drafts, which has the potential to have a large impact, concerns the rules covering the visual impacts of power lines. CPRE argued that, despite very significant public concern about the impact of overhead power lines on the countryside, protection for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks has actually been reduced in the revised drafts.[85] The "Holford Rules" on overhead wires were to be the "basis of the approach" in the original NPSs. The Holford Rules are guidelines on overhead line routing, which were first formulated in 1959 by Sir William Holford, who was a part-time member of the Central Electricity Generating Board. Under the revised draft, decision-makers must simply "bear them in mind".[86]

65. RenewableUK identified a contradictory approach to cables, noting that in "EN-3 there are a number of references to burying cables to a sufficient depth (greater than 1.5m below the sea bed) which is extremely prescriptive and would be extremely difficult and costly to achieve on hard substrate".[87]

66. We recommend that the NPS on transmission networks should revert to the formula that the Holford Rules are the "basis of the approach" toward cables. We further recommend that in some areas the situating of cables underground is necessary to reduce the visual impacts of energy networks infrastructure. These areas should include, but not be limited to, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This should be qualified by recognition that particular economic or environmental circumstances could make the placing of cables underground impractical in certain areas.

68   HC (2009-10) 231, para 90 Back

69   Department of Energy and Climate Change, The Government response to Parliamentary Scrutiny of the draft National Policy Statements for Energy Infrastructure, October 2010, para 4.97 Back

70   Q 151 Back

71   Q 151 Back

72   HC (2009-10) 231, para 92 Back

73   HC Deb, 20 December 2010, col 143WS Back

74   HC Deb, 17 November 2010, col 807W Back

75   Q 151 Back

76   Q 151 Back

77   Q 125 Back

78   HM Treasury, Budget 2010, June 2010, para 1.83 Back

79   Ev 47 Back

80   Department of Energy and Climate Change, Appraisal of Sustainability for the revised draft National Policy Statement for Electricity Networks Infrastructure (EN-5), October 2010, para 3.9 Back

81   Department of Energy and Climate Change, Appraisal of Sustainability for the revised draft National Policy Statement for Electricity Networks Infrastructure (EN-5), October 2010, para 1.1 Back

82   Department of Energy and Climate Change, Appraisal of Sustainability for the revised draft Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1): Main Report, October 2010, para 4.10 Back

83   Department of Energy and Climate Change, Appraisal of Sustainability for the revised draft National Policy Statement for Electricity Networks Infrastructure (EN-5), October 2010, para 3.2 Back

84   Department of Energy and Climate Change, Revised Draft National Policy Statement for Electricity Networks Infrastructure (EN-5), October 2010, para 1.6.5 Back

85   Ev 40 Back

86   Revised Draft National Policy Statement for Electricity Networks Infrastructure (EN-5), para 2.8.5 Back

87   Ev 47 Back

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