Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from E.ON UK

Summary

We welcome the vision behind the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which is intended to simplify planning guidance and provide greater coherence in policy. We advocate the principle of a streamlined planning regime at all levels and hope that the NPPF, when finalised, can achieve this. However, as currently drafted we are concerned that this aim has not been realised and projects may be unnecessarily hindered.

The scale of the energy challenge is significant. The Climate Change Act 2008 commits the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, and the EU Renewable Energy Directive requires that 15% of all final energy consumption comes from renewable sources by 2020. We need a step change to take the UK from 6.7% of electricity generated by renewables in 2009, to over 30% by 2020. Additionally, over 25% of existing generation needs replacing over the next fifteen years, to maintain security of the UK’s energy supplies. Ofgem estimates that to meet the Government’s energy policy goals, £200 billion of investment is needed by 2020, in all forms of low carbon energy development.

An effective planning regime will help to support investment across the whole of the UK and provide greater energy security. It is, however, important that the planning system works for all scales of energy development. Energy developers need a stable long-term policy framework in order to meet their investment criteria and a significant proportion of this investment will be consented under the Town and Country Planning Act. It is vital that the local planning system is effective if it is to encourage investment in the UK.

We think it is right that Local Planning Authorities (LPA) should design their policies to maximise renewable and low carbon energy development, whilst ensuring adverse impacts are addressed satisfactorily. LPAs should have a positive strategy to promote good quality energy developments and we also support the recognition that the LPA should not require applicants to demonstrate the overall need for renewable or low carbon energy. However, the framework in its current drafting does not highlight the need to also balance security of supply and affordability, and this should be addressed as a matter of importance.

In assessing the likely impacts of energy developments, planning authorities should follow the approach set out in the energy National Policy Statements (NPS), which we support. The framework directs local authorities to do this for wind energy development in a footnote to the document, but this needs to be strengthened to require the same approach for all energy developments, within the main body of the framework, so the intention is clear.

We support the presumption in favour of sustainable development, especially given the need to meet the challenges of delivering long term secure and affordable energy supplies. Secure, low carbon and affordable energy can have a very positive impact on the long term economic prosperity of the UK, and the green agenda should promote and drive the creation of new jobs and innovation. A planning regime that supports this is critical.

Questions

Q1. 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?

1. Effective and timely implementation of planning reform is crucial given the pressing need in the UK for new energy infrastructure both to reduce CO2 emissions from the energy sector and to maintain security of energy supplies given the large volume of generating capacity which will close over the next fifteen years. Whilst the NPSs are widely recognised as being crucial to this, we also believe that at a sub 50MW scale, energy developments (both in the home at microgeneration level and in the community or standalone larger developments) will make an important contribution, and the NPPF will have a central role to play in the delivery of such schemes. Our concern is that the NPPF, as currently drafted, does not adequately meet the needs of the energy industry and the guidance for decision makers falls short.

2. We understand, and indeed support the Government’s aim that local communities must be involved in planning, and that the introduction of a simple and clear document should help facilitate this by increasing their understanding and expectations of how planning should work. However, a framework that works for communities, the general public, as well as decision makers and developers is a difficult balance. If the aim of the framework is to produce a document which communities and individuals can easily read and understand, then this framework succeeds in achieving this. If, however, the document is also intended to provide sufficient guidance to local planning authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and others, including investors and developers, then we believe that for energy it falls short of this mark. It can be easily addressed by requiring decision makers to use the NPSs when taking decisions.

3. The Energy NPS process has been well documented; it was both robust and allowed critical review which resulted in strong, coherent and comprehensive policy statements. The NPSs set out the need for new energy developments, expressing the importance to the UK of delivering low carbon, including renewable, energy deployment, and affordable and secure energy supplies while balancing this need against potential impacts on local communities. The draft NPPF can be praised for its inclusion of low carbon energy, clearly stating that it is “Government’s objective that planning should fully support the transition to a low carbon economy, taking full account of flood risk and coastal change” (page 42). However, at no point does it reference the need for energy security, or for energy to be affordable.

4. Footnote eight (page 43) directs decision makers, in the case of wind energy, to follow the approach set out in the NPS for Renewable Energy and Infrastructure and the relevant sections of the Overarching NPS. We welcome this inclusion but it needs to be strengthened. This should be a key paragraph stated within the body of the framework, not hidden in the footnote. Furthermore, we would like this to extend to all energy developments and would suggest the following drafting:

“In assessing the likely impacts of energy development in broad areas, and in determining planning applications for such development, planning authorities should follow the approach set out in the National Policy Statements EN1-5. Where plans identify areas as suitable for energy development, they should make clear what criteria have determined their selection, including for what size of development the areas are considered suitable”.

5. Including the paragraph in this way will address our concerns that the guidance is weakened because it does not tackle the need for energy sources to remain secure and affordable for consumers, as we move to a lower carbon sources of energy supply. For policy makers this presents a significant challenge in balancing each element, given that they are often in competition with each other, and the framework must address this challenge. This paragraph allows it to do so at almost no extra word count.

6. Furthermore, the section on Sustainable Communities should also make reference to energy. Whilst energy needs are considered in the climate change section, this does not go far enough to encourage authorities to think about energy in the context of sustainable communities. We can offer examples of best practice; for example last year we signed our first city partnership agreement to help Stoke-on-Trent become the country’s first sustainable city. In the past year we have signed similar agreements with Sheffield, Exeter, Coventry and Milton Keynes. Through these agreements we work together with local authorities to look at the right energy solutions for that particular community. By working in partnership with the local authority, local businesses and community groups, we are able to bring forward schemes that meet the community’s energy needs, but also provide local jobs, increase local skills, and support vulnerable groups therefore contributing to the broader sustainability of a community and of course supporting Government’s localism agenda.

Q2. Is the definition of “sustainable development” contained in the document appropriate; and is the presumption in favour of sustainable development a balanced and workable approach?

7. We endorse the presumption in favour of Sustainable Development and agree that all local plans should be based upon and contain this as their starting point, with clear policies that will guide how it will be applied locally. Planning positively for development and approving, where possible, good quality developments, will not only support economic growth but help combat the effects of climate change and promote stronger communities. We were pleased to see that it reflected the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental.

8. A “presumption in favour of sustainable development” is essential to supporting growth, especially in the absence of sub-national or local renewable energy targets. We hope that this helps to encourage local authorities to support the appropriate development of sustainable energy projects. This could be linked to appropriate incentives to encourage local authorities and communities to plan positively for sustainable energy projects.

9. Our concern remains that the NPPF fails to highlight the importance of energy, especially against other important development needs such as housing. We would like to see paragraph 17 strengthened to require authorities to develop plans that support the strategic development needs set out in Local Plans, including policies for energy, as well as housing and economic development.

Q3. Are the “core planning principles” clearly and appropriately expressed?

10. The core planning principles consider many of the important elements we would expect to see. We agree with the sentiment that planning should proactively drive and support development that the country needs. This will help deliver our future economic growth for UK plc. However, we would like the planning policy to state the need to consider energy in the wider context of UK targets and the need to encourage significant investment in our future energy infrastructure.

11. We welcome inclusion of the statement that plans must set out a positive long-term vision for the area and be kept up to date, providing a practical framework within which planning applications can be made with a high degree of clarity. It is also important that this is balanced with national, sub-national and local needs.

12. We support the principle that planning policies and decisions should enable the reuse of existing resources and encourage the use of renewable resources, for example by the development of renewable energy. This is important given the need to meet the very significant energy challenge which the UK faces. This could be further strengthened by extending the wording to include low carbon, as well as renewable resources.

13. Whilst we understand the need for planning to be genuinely plan-led, authorities must also be flexible enough to consider good quality projects outside of mapped areas.

Q4. 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?

14. Greater cohesion in planning matters could be achieved if the NPPF were to state that, for energy developments, decision makers should use the NPS as a primary document. When examining local plans, the framework expects the local authority to develop a plan consistent with national policy. The plan must enable the delivery of sustainable development in accordance with the policies in the framework. The relationship between the NPPF and the NPS could be reinforced if it included that plans should also be consistent with NPSs (where they are in place). The energy NPSs are designed to help deliver the UK ambition for energy and this ambition should be delivered at all scales – nationally significant projects, as well as smaller projects. Locally, we all have a role to play and we would like to see authorities incentivised to take responsibility for this.

15. How the NPPF interacts with offshore developments, including the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and the Marine Policy Statement (MPS) is also very important.

16. The framework expects local authorities to work collaboratively with other bodies to ensure that strategic priorities across local boundaries are properly coordinated and clearly reflected in individual Local Plans. For example, footnote three requires that for marine areas, local planning authorities should collaborate with the MMO. This is an important inclusion, but to be sufficiently clear, how the local authority should interact with the MMO should be a clear statement within the main body of the text.

17. The NPPF states that in coastal areas, local planning authorities should take account of marine plans and apply Integrated Coastal Zone Management across local authority and land/sea boundaries. This makes a clear link with the marine planning regime and the terrestrial planning regime, but should require authorities to take account of the MPS as well, as the marine plans will not be in place in all areas, for a number of years.

Q5. Does the NPPF, together with the “duty to cooperate”, provide a sufficient basis for larger-than-local strategic planning?

18. The Government expects joint working on areas of common interest to be diligently undertaken for the mutual benefit of neighbouring authorities. With the abolition of regional renewables targets, it is imperative that local authorities have the right framework to support the development of sustainable energy infrastructure.

19. Working across boundaries, local authorities can maximise the effectiveness of sustainable development, and benefits may also be realised by working with other organisations, such as community interest companies, across local authority boarders. This could, for example, include the sharing of a supply chain for biomass stations, or the waste heat from a conventional power station. We would like the duty to cooperate to be strengthened, as without a specific duty to plan for strategic infrastructure there is a risk that each local authority will simply assume that its neighbouring authorities will deliver.

20. Local Plans will be examined by an independent inspector whose role is to assess whether the plan has been prepared in accordance with the “Duty to Cooperate”, legal and procedural requirements, and whether it is sound. A Neighbourhood Plan must be assessed by an independent examiner before it can go to a local referendum. Where pre-application is appropriate, encouraging discussion between developers and planning authorities (and statutory consultees) is also important and there must be recognition that statutory consultees will need to provide advice in a timely manner at all stages of the development process. We would like the NPPF to consider this inclusion.

21. There is a lot of positive intent in the NPPF and we welcome this. Aligning local and national benefits is no easy task and our concern is that when local plans are published there will still be a significant gap between the local potential capacity and national need for energy development, because the net local benefits may be limited, depending on the type of project, and there is little incentive for local plans to incorporate this type of development. As part of the independent assessment of Local Plans an independent review of energy infrastructure should be included and where this is not aligned with national targets and the NPS, the local authority should be required to reassess.

22. Securing long term reliable, affordable and low carbon energy is everyone’s responsibility. Local authorities and communities must recognise this and translate goals into strong local plans. A positive strategy must be adopted and policies should be designed in a way that maximises energy development, while ensuring that adverse impacts are addressed satisfactorily. We would ask that local authorities support community-led initiatives for renewable and low carbon energy, including developments outside such areas being taken forward through neighbourhood planning. They should also identify opportunities where development can draw its energy supply from decentralised, renewable or low carbon energy supply systems and for co-locating potential heat customers and suppliers. Such thinking is essential to provide a sufficient basis for larger-than-local strategic planning.

Q6. Are the policies contained in the NPPF sufficiently evidence-based?

23. We welcome that the NPPF is not intended to be spatial in nature, but are concerned that some of the drafting around “plan-led” frameworks could have unintended consequences.

24. Local Plans, incorporating neighbourhood plans where relevant, are the starting point for the determination of any planning application. We are concerned that there are a lack of drivers for local planning authorities to encourage energy developments, for example wind farm developments. Without this driver the capacity will not materialise in the local plan, which will ultimately lead to an increase in refusals for good quality projects which are needed to ensure the UK meets its energy objectives.

25. Further, there are a wide range of siting options for energy developments and technologies and mitigating measures vary significantly. A framework which specified predetermined locations for development would be unnecessarily restrictive. A flexible approach is required which enables a judgement to be reached by the local authority in relation to the location and development in question.

26. Finally, the NPPF states that local planning authorities should work with other authorities and providers to assess the quality and capacity of energy infrastructure and its ability to meet forecast demands and take account of the need for nationally significant infrastructure within their areas. Whilst this is welcomed, we often find that, although we are a provider, and authorities do consult with us on new policies and plans, our views often go unheard or are not given sufficient weighting in relation to the views of anti-development groups.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011