The revised draft National Policy Statements on Energy

Memorandum submitted by the RSPB (RNPS 02)


In line with all the political parties and with many other stakeholders, we support the principle of national policy statements (NPSs). However the RSPB was highly critical of the draft NPSs published in November 2009, which were highly deficient as planning documents and in terms of compliance with environmental law.

We welcome DECC’s decision to re-open its consultation and scrutiny process. However the revised NPSs are very little changed: we remain concerned that they will neither speed the delivery of a low carbon economy nor give adequate protection to the natural environment. The revised appraisals of sustainability still do not appear to serve the objectives, and to meet the requirements, of the Strategic Environmental assessment Directive (2001/42/EC).

In summary the RSPB is disappointed that the revised energy NPSs and associated appraisals have the following weaknesses:

• The NPSs have no more spatial expression than the previous drafts, missing the opportunity to avoid environmental impacts ‘upstream’ in the planning process.

• The statement of need does not adequately address development of the energy mix, nor does it set out limits for deployment of any technology.

• There is no new requirement to consider the necessary associated power lines at the same time as considering power generation facilities.

• The IPC is not to consider the carbon emissions of any proposal, unnecessarily jeopardising the UK’s carbon budgets.

• No new conditions are placed on the sustainability of fuels for biomass.

• The Appraisals of Sustainability make only a cursory effort to examine alternatives, and thereby do not allow for their direct comparison with the preferred plan.

• The revised appraisal process has contributed almost nothing to the level of environmental protection afforded by the NPSs.

• The time frame for consultation on the monitoring strategy is not adequate.

Main concerns

Lack of strategic vision and coherence

The NPSs represent an opportunity for DECC to undertake joined-up, strategic planning for the delivery of essential infrastructure. Strategic planning of this kind would help to anticipate and avoid environmental damage, to reduce problems at the project planning stage, and to provide greater certainty for investors and stakeholders. However the NPSs are more development control documents rather than strategic policy statements, so will not direct investment towards locations and technologies with acceptable environmental impacts. Further the energy NPSs are not integrated with each other, so the IPC will not be able to consider infrastructure development in an integrated way - for example both new power stations and any new power lines they require.

Lack of clarity on infrastructure needed

Although the NPSs contain projections of demand, the NPSs remain unclear on how much infrastructure is needed, of what type and where (apart from nuclear). The NPSs assert an overwhelming, urgent need for new infrastructure, which is used to relegate any environmental concerns to issues of local detail.

Blindness to carbon emissions and unsustainable biomass production

The IPC is essentially ‘carbon blind’ in its decision-making, and is instructed not to consider the sustainability of biomass fuel production. We consider that the IPC (or its successor) should give significant weight to projects’ carbon emissions, to ensure that cumulative emissions from projects do not jeopardise the UK’s carbon budgets. While we accept that other aspects of energy policy encourage low-carbon investment, we do not understand why the NPSs cannot provide an additional safeguard. The same applies to the sustainability of biomass production.

Weak Appraisals of Sustainability

Greater effort has now been made in the revised appraisals to consider ‘reasonable alternatives’, as required in the SEA Directive. However, contrary to European Commission guidance on application of SEA, alternatives to the NPS policies are not addressed in the same way and to an equivalent level of detail. Contrary to Government’s own guidance (and to rules requiring consultation of the public at a stage when options are open) the alternatives are often ruled out within the appraisals. Indeed the appraisals deal with alternatives in such a brief and cursory way that they repeatedly fail to give meaningful information about their likely impacts on the environment. Further, little effort has been made to integrate the revised findings into the content of the NPSs. Thus the appraisals do almost nothing to increase the level of environmental protection provided for by the NPSs, and therefore do not serve the SEA Directive’s central objective.

Inadequate consultation on provisions for monitoring

Government proposes to develop its draft Monitoring Strategy during the current re-consultation period, and then to publish it alongside the designated NPSs. We do not consider this provides an adequate timeframe for consultation on this important aspect of the policy..

November 2010