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


Memorandum submitted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)

SUMMARY

CPRE recognises the urgent need for low carbon energy infrastructure and the challenge climate change poses. We have welcomed the development of National Policy Statements (NPSs) in principle. We have been very critical of the first set of Energy National Policy Statements, however, because they: lacked any significant spatial guidance, restricting the benefits which could be gained from strategic planning; asserted an essentially unlimited need for new energy infrastructure, undermining the ability of planning to integrate competing demands on land use; insufficiently engaged the public in debate over the UK's energy policy; and failed to enable consideration of reasonable alternatives, including through the Appraisals of Sustainability.

While a number of changes which improve the NPSs have been made, we are disappointed that few of the above criticisms have been effectively addressed. Notably:

  1. the NPSs have not been strengthened to enable the planning system to direct infrastructure to the least environmentally damaging locations;
  2. although the need for new infrastructure now has an evidence base, the NPSs provide no guidance on how decisions should be affected by expected need, other than to assert that the need is significant. There is, for example, no suggestion that need will not continue to be significant if the IPC consents enough infrastructure to meet expected need;
  3. 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. This is a matter of serious concern to CPRE; and
  4. minor changes to the wording of certain sections are likely to have significant impacts on the interpretation and meaning of the NPSs. These changes have not been adequately highlighted to the public.

SPATIAL PLANNING

As national planning documents, the draft energy NPSs should set out spatially explicit guidelines to help direct the future development of energy infrastructure. Giving a stronger steer to decision-makers about the optimum locations for new energy infrastructure would make it more likely that future energy infrastructure could be developed in a coherent manner which integrates environmental, social and economic concerns. CPRE would like to see more detailed spatial criteria 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. We are concerned that the absence of more explicit spatial guidance will lead to poorer outcomes for the natural environment.

This is not merely a theoretical concern. For example, experience of pre-application consultation for the substation required to connect the Triton Knoll offshore wind farm to the national grid highlights the risk of the current approach. The location of the substation is subject to consultation, but the fact that all proposed sites for the substation are approximately 40 km from the nearest suitable 400 kV overhead lines is not considered. Indeed, the required overhead lines to connect the substation are entirely outside of the consultation, and risk not being considered at all by the Infrastructure Planning Commission or a future Major Infrastructure Unit of the Planning Inspectorate.

Similar concerns relate to the consenting of carbon capture ready (CCR) gas fired generation. All new gas generation will need to be CCR, but there is no guidance about whether or not decision makers should prefer projects sited near potential CO2 transmission infrastructure or storage sites.

NEED

Currently, draft EN-1 asserts the need for 59 GW of new generation capacity by 2025. Of this, approximately 16.5 GW is already consented, with a further 23 GW in planning or firmly proposed, as evidenced by National Grid's seven year statement. In total, there is therefore some understanding of where around two thirds of required capacity for new energy infrastructure may be built.[1]

While not all of this will be consented, and some of those projects that are consented will not be built, the fact that the way in which need is considered by decision makers does not relate to the amount of infrastructure that is proposed appears perverse. In a sense, the fact that the revised draft NPSs contain a detailed case for need supports the argument that an understanding of how much need has been fulfilled should be incorporated into decisions on major infrastructure projects.

As it stands, there is a risk that major infrastructure planning will be unable effectively to perform its development control function by directing necessary infrastructure to the most suitable sites. It is also unlikely to be unable to respond intelligently to oversupply of energy infrastructure which may jeopardise wider policy goals (such as a large increase in gas-fired generation). Moreover, the possibility of overconsenting may mean undue frustration for local communities and developers "cherry-picking" the cheaper, environmentally less appropriate sites.

GRID

Electricity networks have a significant impact on the beauty and tranquillity of the countryside. To date the industry has followed a set of principles, the "Holford Rules", in routeing new overhead lines. These have generally worked effectively to limit this impact.

The majority of 1,100 public responses to questions on electricity transmission policies in the first drafts of the NPSs (just under a third of the 3000 responses received to the consultation on all six NPSs as a whole) called for stronger policies to control the visual impact of overhead lines. About 600 of these were, according to the Government, directly inspired by the campaigning of CPRE and partner organisations.

Disturbingly, the second draft of the NPS on electricity networks proposes to weaken the standing of the Holford Rules. The original draft stated that decision makers should recognise that the Rules should form the basis for the approach to routeing new overhead lines, and applicants should be expected to follow them where possible.

The latest draft only says that decision-makers "should bear them [the Rules] in mind". In CPRE's view this would mean a significant weakening of the Rules. It is likely to mean that there will be no requirement on either (i) electricity companies to demonstrate that they have sought to avoid damaging impacts to important areas of landscape; or (ii) the decision maker to base its evaluation of a proposed overhead transmission line scheme on whether the Holford Rules have been met. Nor is there any expectation that the mitigation measures suggested in EN-5 (paragraph 2.8.9) should be carried out for schemes where one or more of the Holford Rules are not met. We fear that the effect of this would be seriously to weaken the protection of the countryside from unnecessary and intrusive energy infrastructure.

Minor Changes with Major Impacts

Other minor changes to the wording of several sections of the NPSs are of concern to CPRE. Because NPSs have a different status under the Planning Act 2008 than existing PPSs—decisions on major infrastructure must be taken in accordance with the NPSs rather than existing policy—minor changes in wording can have major impacts on countryside protection.

A few examples of such changes are detailed below:

  1. Paragraphs in section 5.8 of EN-1 on the historic environment almost exactly repeat existing protections in PPS5, except that they remove references to non-designated assets. In particular, paragraphs 5.8.12 and 5.8.17 add the word "designated" to existing language in PPS5, weakening protection for non-designated, but still important, heritage assets.
  2. Paragraph 5.9.9 of EN-1 on visual and landscape impacts repeats the new "contribution to the regional economy" criterion which first appeared in the previous draft EN-1. This is a significant departure from existing protections for nationally designated areas and significantly reduces their protection.
  3. Paragraph 5.12.8 of EN-1 identifies developer contributions as a material consideration for planning decisions. While we welcome the consideration of these benefits through the planning process, the NPS should specify that contributions should relate to the purpose of the project (eg. community benefits for energy projects should contribute to local energy saving or microgeneration).
  4. Paragraph 5.10.12 of EN-1 advises applicants on ways in which to circumvent Green Belt protection. This is deeply disturbing.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the changes. We are concerned that democratic scrutiny of the revised draft NPSs has been made more difficult by these changes being summarised as drafting changes, ostensibly used simply or clarify, rather than changes in policy, which deserve public scrutiny.

November 2010



1   Note that this only partially takes into account the spatially explicit proposals for new nuclear power stations. Back


 
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