Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from the UK Business Council for Sustainable Energy (UKBCSE)

1.0 Introduction

1.1 The UK Business Council for Sustainable Energy (UKBCSE) and the UK’s major energy trade associations has long worked in support of planning reform.

1.2 Together the companies with whom we work will deliver the vast majority of the sustainable energy projects necessary to achieve the UK Government’s policy objectives of continued security of supply and addressing climate change through clean, reliable and affordable energy supplies. Ofgem estimate that the level of investment needed is circa. £200 billion by 2020 in all forms of sustainable energy—big and small, onshore and offshore, and across the UK, including a range of capital intensive low carbon generation, transmission and distribution technologies. This very substantial investment will also make a significant contribution to the Govern ment’s growth agenda.

2.0 Executive Summary

2.1 The UKBCSE & the wider industry would like to highlight the following key points which are covered in detail later on in this written evidence:

Stable Policy Framework—Energy developers need a clear and stable long-term policy framework and a planning regime that is effective, fair, and gives a reasonable degree of certainty to them, affected communities and their representatives.

We therefore support the establishment of a high-level, strategic and non-spatial NPPF that clarifies the policy context for planning under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA) and the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (PCPA), and sits alongside the nationally significant infrastructure project (N SIP) regime.Reflecting the majority of the Energy National Policy Statements (NPSs), we recommend that the NPPF should be non-spatial and non-prescriptive in nature, as in companies’ view the market is best placed to determine where energy projects should be developed, in consultation with local communities. This should be the case unless there are compelling reasons, of national interest and practicality, as to why a proposed development should be restricted to a specific site or sites.

Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development—Companies welcome the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, and confirmation that in the absence of up to date plans permission should be granted, provided there is no overriding conflict with the NPPF as a whole.

Deliverability, Proportionality and Viability—Companies:

Support the need to avoid “burdening” development with conditions, obligations or assessments that may make a potential project non-viable or create delay.

Believe a proportionate approach should also be taken to enforcement, whilst ensuring appropriate protections are in place.

Key Recommendations /Areas of Concern

2.2 Industry welcomes the streamlining national planning policy and is broadly supportive of the draft NPPF, however, we have a number of recommendations to improve it further:

2.3 Energy investment and the NPPF—Given the scale of investment needed to deliver Government’s energy policy and climate change goals, Industry recommends:

Energy Section—The NPPF should recognise energy as a key area for growth and include a dedicated energy section, building on and incorporating the existing Climate Change, Flooding and Coastal Change section.

Relationship between the NPPF and NPSs—Companies strongly believe that the NPPF should confirm the National Policy Statements (NPSs) as a material consideration under the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA) and Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act (PCPA) regimes, as well as clarifying that NPSs are the primary basis for decisions on NSIPs. Additionally, it would be helpful to include a range of DECC information to aid local authorities when drawing up their Local Plans.

Relationship between the NPPF and Local/Neighbourhood Plans—Industry believes that the NPPF should spell out that Neighbourhood Plans should align with, and support the delivery of, the strategic aims of Local Plans/the NPPF, with the inclusion of an explicit statement that Neighbourhood Plans can promote more but not less development than set out in the Local Plan.

Streamlining of Planning Policy/Guidance—Whilst supportive of streamlining Planning Policy Statements (PPSs), Industry is keen to retain key areas useful for developers / local planning authorities, such as parts of the revised PPS1 Supplement on Climate Change / PPS 22 on Renewable Energy.

Opportunity areas for development—Industry welcomes the NPPF encouraging local authorities to consider identifying opportunity areas for renewable and low-carbon energy infrastructure. However, the NPPF should make it clear that there is no presumption against such development outside of those areas. In addition, it is vital that any spatial planning should be consistent and rigorous, and take into account the full range of other issues that affect site selection. We therefore suggest the inclusion of the DECC October 2010 Renewable and Low-Carbon Capacity Assessment Methodology for English Regions.

Planning Strategically across local boundaries and the Duty to Co-operate—Industry generally supports the positive wording within the NPPF requiring local planning authorities to work across boundaries to actively plan for the development and infrastructure required in the wider area. However, we believe this should be backed-up by strengthening the Duty to Co-operate provisions of the Localism Bill including a specific duty to jointly plan for strategic infrastructure.

Restrictions on development in certain areas—Under existing legislation and / or licence obligations companies will always seek to avoid or minimise adverse environmental impacts. However, there is concern that the Draft NPPF introduces restrictions on development which go beyond the requirements in existing national planning policy and indeed the Natural Environment White Paper. Companies therefore recommend the NPPF is amended to align with existing planning policy, which already provides strong environmental protection.

3.0 Committee QuestionsKey Points

Context—Scale of the Energy Challenge

3.1 Planning reform is vital to deliver Government’s energy policy and growth agenda goals.

3.2 The Climate Change Act 2008 targets commit the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, and the EU Renewable Energy Directive requires 15% of all energy to be from renewable sources by 2020.

3.3 This requires a step-change to move the UK from 6.7% of electricity generated by renewables in 2009, to in excess of 30% by 2020, needing extensive investment in renewable and low carbon generation and energy efficiency at smaller scales, as well as a very substantial increase in the use of renewable sources for heat supply, supported by smart grids. In addition, over a quarter of the existing generation needs replacing, in order to maintain security of the UK’s energy supplies.

3.4 Equally, transition to a low carbon economy will take time, yet within a decade the UK will be importing 60-80% of its gas. Therefore, sustained investment is needed in new gas import, reception and storage facilities, as well as the gas / electricity networks to bring the energy to market.

3.5 Paragraph 153, in line with the Supplement to PPS 1, states that planning authorities are precluded from questioning the overall need for renewable or low carbon energy. However, the Supplement to PPS 1 also states that local planning authorities should not question “the energy justification for why a proposal for such development must be sited in a particular location”. This has been omitted from the draft NPPF, which could potentially lead to protracted arguments over site selection at the planning application and appeal stages. We also believe that planning policy should retain a criteria-based approach (as per PPS 22), as opposed to an area or location-based one.

3.6 Industry recommends inclusion of these key points and a specific bullet point requiring Local Plans to “contain a clear strategy for supporting the delivery of the Government’s energy and climate change policies and targets and other national objectives” as opposed to simply requiring local planning authorities to having a “positive strategy to promote energy from renewable and low-carbon sources” (Paragraph 152).

Committees Questions

Does the NPPF give sufficient guidance to local planning authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and others, including investors and developers, while at the same time giving local communities sufficient power over planning decisions?

3.7 The Industry supports much of the draft NPPF, however there are a few key omissions and suggested improvements, which could further enhance it:

3.8 Stronger recognition of the importance of delivering the UK’s energy needs and addressing climate change and the resulting need for energy infrastructure development—which Industry believes should be included in the Ministerial Foreword, the Introduction and a dedicated energy section (see below).

3.9 The lack of recognition of the major contribution that the necessary infrastructure investment programme will make to economic growth—estimated by Ofgem as circa. £200 billion by 2020, Industry believes that energy development should be included alongside the major growth areas of housing, retail and leisure.

3.10 A dedicated energy section—Whilst there are some useful statements on energy and climate change, the NPPF would greatly benefit from a dedicated energy section, recognising the crucial contribution new energy infrastructure will make to tackling climate change, energy security (which is not mentioned at all) and economic growth.

3.11 Stronger cross-reference to the Energy and other National Policy Statements—Industry recommends inclusion of a clear statement on the relationship between the NPPF and NPSs, their primacy for decisions on NSIPs, and their inclusion as a material consideration for energy projects consented and plans made under the T CPA and PCPA regimes.

3.12 Duty to Co-operate—The Industry welcomes the strong wording in the NPPF on the need for local planning authorities to jointly plan for development and infrastructure across boundaries. However, we believe this should be backed up by strengthening the Duty to Co-operate provisions in the Localism Bill, to include a specific duty to jointly plan for strategic infrastructure.

The NPPF places much emphasis on the need for additional housing / other development, yet it is essential that local authorities talk to energy companies to understand likely increases in demand arising from housing / other growth. Without active assessment of, and planning for, strategic energy (and other) infrastructure, local authorities could be faced with shortfalls in network capacity and / or electricity and gas supplies.

Additionally, given the integrated nature of the UK’s gas and electricity system, there needs to be a way of ensuring that Local Plans contribute to, and support the delivery of the UK’s energy needs as a whole.

3.13 Opportunity areas for development—Industry welcomes the positive tone of the NPPF in encouraging local authorities to consider suitable locations for renewable and low carbon energy infrastructure. However, Industry believes that the NPPF should make it clear that there is no presumption against such development outside of such priority / opportunity areas, which should be judged on the basis of their individual merits against the NPPF, including the presumption in favour of developme nt, and the relevant Local and Neighbourhood Plans.

3.14 In addition, to avoid inconsistent approaches and the risk of ruling out suitable sites, generic guidance and a robust and consistent process (using existing methodologies) is needed to assess the local and surrounding area energy needs, and all the factors that affect the suitability of locations for specific types of energy infrastructure. Additionally, the resource-intensive nature of undertaking detailed spatial planning is likely to lead to delays to the consenting of many projects that may hamper the UK in meeting its energy supply and climate change objectives.

3.15 Industry therefore recommends referencing the DECC October 2010 Renewable and Low-Carbon Capacity Assessment Methodology for English Regions, which identifies the key factors—including technical, operational, commercial, ecological and environmental, and provides a rigorous assessment process.

3.16 Restrictions on development in certain areas—Companies recognise the vital role Green Belts and other designated areas can play, and the presumption against inappropriate development in the Green Belt as set out in the draft NPPF. However, Industry has concerns that the NPPF, as currently drafted, would introduce restrictions on development which go beyond the requirements in existing national planning policy. These additional restrictions could undermine the provision of necessary energy infrastructure.

3.17 Whilst developers will always seek to avoid development that has significant adverse effects on sites protected under the Birds and Habitat Directives, the existing approach in PPS9 and Planning Circular 06/2005 provides that development proposals which adversely affect European sites could still be granted permission if certain tests / conditions are fulfilled. In contrast, Paragraphs 6 and 170 of the NPPF state that “development likely to have a significant effect on protected sites (under the Birds and Habitats Directives) would not be sustainable”. This is more restrictive and could undermine development proposals that would be acceptable under the current policy.

3.18 Paragraphs 130/131—states that “By designating land as Local Green Space local communities will be able to rule out new development other than in very special circumstances.” Whilst it is recognised that the draft NPPF, Paragraph 131 states that “the Local Green Space designation will not be appropriate for most green areas or open space”, the associated criteria for considering the use of the designation are fairly wide and vague. Industry suggests there needs to be sufficient safeguards and clear criteria in the final version of the NPPF to ensure that Local Green Space designations are not used to prevent necessary development.

3.19 Paragraph 146—states that “When located in the Green Belt, elements of many renewable energy projects will comprise inappropriate development”. Companies have particular concerns about this proposed wording, which seems to be in conflict with Government policy set out in NPS EN-1, Paragraph 5.10.12, which states that “It may also be possible for an applicant to show that the physical characteristics of a proposed overhead line development or wind farm are such that it has no adverse effects which conflict with the fundamental purposes of Green Belt designation.”

3.20 At a practical level, a presumption against development of energy projects, such as overhead lines in the Green Belt, could have significant negative implications. Most of the major urban areas in the country are surrounded by Green Belt. Implementation of this policy could prevent necessary reinforcements and connections into major urban areas, with considerable impacts on the electricity supply and growth opportunities in those areas. Companies believe that the NPPF should therefore:

Be aligned with Government’s adopted policy in NPS EN-1—that the characteristics of overhead lines or wind farm are such that they may not have adverse effects which conflict with the fundamental purposes of Green Belt designation.

Not impose undue restrictions on development in designated areas that go beyond existing national planning policy. In particular, the provisions in relation to sites protected under the Birds and Habitat Directives, Local Green Spaces and the application of Green Belt policy to energy infrastructure projects need to be revised, as set out above.

Is the definition of “sustainable development” contained in the document appropriate; and is the presumption in favour of sustainable develop ment a balanced and workable approach?

Definition of Sustainable Development

3.21 The Industry supports both the definition of sustainable development, and the emphasis on all three social, environmental and economic pillars of sustainable development.

Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development

3.22 Industry sees the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” as essential to delivering Government’s energy policy and economic growth goals, and believes that the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, as well as being a core principle of the NPPF, should be enshrined within the Localism Bill.

3.23 Paragraphs 13 to 15—Industry strongly welcomes the Government’s commitment to “ensuring that the planning system does everything it can to support sustainable economic growth,” and the positive wording within these paragraphs.

3.24 Paragraph 17—National, sub-national and local needs—Helpfully lays out how the presumption will impact on the development of Neighbourhood Plans, requiring neighbourhoods to develop plans that support the strategic development needs set out in the Local Plans, but with the option to promote more development than in the Local Plan if they wish. Yet, within Paragraph 51 (Neighbourhood Plans) it states that the policies of Neighbourhood Plan “take precedence over existing policies in the Local Plan for that neighbourhood, where they are in conflict.” This could result in Neighbourhood Plans:

Not supporting the strategic development needs set out in the Local Plan (conflicting with statements elsewhere in the NPPF).

Promoting less development than outlined in the Local Plan, threatening to undermine the delivery of local and national policy, including energy.

3.25 Industry therefore suggests that the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” needs to be set in the context of the need:

For Neighbourhood Plans to align with, and support the delivery of, the strategic priorities of the Local Plan, and Local Plans to align with / support the delivery of the NPPF—and other national policy (including energy policy and NPSs).

To recognise that delivery of the UK’s national policies will require wider consideration at a larger than local / neighbourhood level.

3.26 Industry recommends that the NPPF should:

Limit the circumstances when Neighbourhood Plans may take precedence over a Local Plan to only when Local Plans are absent or out of date. Otherwise Industry recommends the precedence of Neighbourhood Plans is removed altogether.

Establish the clear linkage between national policy, the need for sub-national/wider than local planning, Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans.

Are the “core planning principles” clearly and appropriately expressed?

3.27 Paragraph 19—Industry agrees with the establishment of a set of core land-use planning principles to underpin both plan-making and development management. In terms of the principles Industry supports the statements:

“Planning should be genuinely plan-led, with succinct Local Plans setting a positive long-term vision for an area.”

“Provide a practical framework within which decisions on planning applications can be made with a high degree of certainty and efficiency.”

“Planning should proactively drive and support the development that this country needs”.

“Decision-takers at every level should assume that the default answer to development proposals is ‘yes’, except where this would compromise the key sustainable development principles set out in this Framework.”

3.28 Industry does not agree with some commentators that the NPPF is looking to “concrete over the countryside.” Indeed, as set out above, the wording of the NPPF covering designated areas, Green Belt and Green Spaces, would actually increase environmental protections over and above existing plan ning policy.

3.29 Industry recommends that the NPPF should retain the level of protection set in the existing PPSs and should not introduce further restrictions as set out above.

3.30 However, given the scale of energy development and major investment needed, Industry believes that this should be emphasised as a key growth area alongside housing etc.

3.31 Industry supports the requirement for planning policies and decisions to take into account local circumstances and market signals, with local planning authorities required to set out a clear strategy for allocating sufficient land suitable for development, taking into account the needs of the residential / business community. However, it will also be important to consider national and even international market signals, such as within the energy market.

3.32 One of the planning principles states that “Where practical and consistent with other objectives, allocations of land for development should prefer land of lesser value,” however as outlined in Paragraph 3.14, given the constraints that preclude many locations as suitable for energy developments, it may not always be possible to choose land of lesser environmental value.

3.33 Lastly, Industry supports the statement that “planning policies and decisions should..... encourage, rather than restrict, the use of renewable resources (for example the development of renewable energy),” however, given the scale of the energy challenge, Industry recommends the NPPF is amended to encourage all forms of low-carbon energy.

Is the relationship between the NPPF and other national statements of planning-related policy sufficiently clear? Does the NPPF serve to integrate national planning policy across Government Departments?

Relationship between the NPPF and NPSs

3.34 Whilst Industry supports the statement of fact in Paragraph 6”Nationally significant infrastructure projects are determined by the decision-making framework set out in national policy statements, which are part of the overall framework of planning policy,” the NPPF should provide greater clarity about the relationship with the NSIP regime and support the delivery of the Government’s objectives and policy in relation to NSIPs as set out in the National Policy Statements (NPSs).

3.35 In cases where developers may need to make applications for separate infrastructure as part of the same project under both nati onal and local planning processes, national policy takes precedence.

3.36 Industry welcomes the NPPF referencing the need for local planning authorities to “take into account the other policies within the Framework,” but believes this should be expanded to include other national policies, including NPSs.

3.37 Industry therefore recommends that the NPPF should particularly state that:

(i)NPSs are the primary basis for decisions on NSIPs (as set out in the NPSs).

(ii)NPSs are likely to be a material consideration in decision making on applications that fall under the TCPA and PCPA regimes, judged on a case by case basis, with wording similar to that in the Energy NPSs.

(iii)NPSs and other national policy should be taken into account in the preparation, revision and review of Local and Neighbourhood Plans.

Relationship between the NPPF and Local / Neiqhbou rhood Plans

3.38 Further to our comments above, Industry believes it is essential that the NPPF spells out that Neighbourhood Plans should align with, and support the delivery of, the strategic aims of Local Plans / the NPPF, and that Local Plans should support the delivery of NPPF. The requirement in Paragraph 50 that Neighbourhood Plans “must be in general conformity with the strategic policies of the Local Plan” is strongly supported, as is the statement that “Neighbourhoods will have the power to promote more development than is set out in the strategic policies of the Local Plan.” However, for clarity, Industry recommends the inclusion of an explicit statement that Neighbourhood Plans can promote more but not less development than set out in the Local Plan.

Does the NPPF, together with the “Duty to Co-operate”, provide a sufficient basis for larger-than-local strategic planning?

3.39 Industry welcomes the positive wording in the NPPF that partly addresses industry’s concerns over the need for local authorities to jointly plan for strategic infrastructure, especially energy projects.

3.40 However, given that the NPPF is not enshrined within the Localism Bill, and is therefore Government policy rather than statute, Industry has consistently called for Government to strengthen the “Duty to Co-operate” provisions of the Localism Bill to place an obligation on local authorities to positively plan for infrastructure, particularly across boundaries. This is vital, because housing and commercial developments in one local authority area could have a major impact on another local authority area, due to the resulting increased demand for gas or electricity, and possible need to install additional network capacity. Positively planning for this, with early engagement with energy network companies, will guard against a piecemeal approach, which is more costly and often has a bigger impact on the environment and surrounding community.

3.41 Companies strongly support the statements set out in Paragraph 14, but believe that the NPPF should make clear that Local Plans or Neighbourhood Plans should not preclude sustainable energy developments in general, or in large parts of their plan area, simply to avoid a particular type of development. Currently, due to the limitations of some plans, energy developments do not always receive political support at local level, despite the urgent national need for all forms of energy infrastructure development.

3.42 The NPPF will encourage Local Authorities to expedite their Local Plans in a timely manner, however, without active assessment of, and planning for, strategic energy (and other) infrastructure, local authorities could be faced with shortfalls in network capacity and / or electricity and gas supplies and the delivery of the UK’s energy needs as a whole could be jeopardised.

Are the policies contained in the NPPF sufficiently evidence based?

3.43 In the case of energy infrastructure development, which is not widely covered within the NPPF, Industry believes that this could be rectified by referencing:

The DECC 2050 Pathways Report.

The Energy NPSs—which, given the level of underpinning technical work, public consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny / approval, provide strong evidence for both the urgent national need for renewable and low-carbon energy development and provide useful detail / evidence.

Other DECC documents, as referenced previously.

The DECC October 2010 Renewable and Low Carbon Capacity Assessment Methodology for the English Regions—which provides useful evidence and a structured and consistent approach for identifying suitable locations for renewable and low carbon energy infrastructure developments.

4.0 Conclusion

4.1 The Industry continues to support reform of the planning regime and is broadly supportive of the draft NPPF and welcomes this opportunity to contribute to the Committee’s deliberations.

4.2 In particular it is essential that all aspects of the planning system are aligned, and work as a cohesive suite of policies balancing the three pillars of sustainable development—economic, social and environmental—both for nationally significant infrastructure projects and those consented under the TCPA and PCPA regimes.

4.3 Industry believes that much of the NPPF achieves the appropriate balance. However, we urge the Committee to call on Government to give much greater prominence to delivering the UK’s energy needs and addressing climate change, and the major contribution energy projects will make to economic growth, and to ensure a smooth transition to avoid unnecessary delay to essential energy projects.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011