Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from EDF Energy

Executive Summary

EDF Energy welcomes the introduction of a simple and consolidated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that covers all development under the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA) regime. We actively support the overarching principle of having a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” but believe that more emphasis should be given in the NPPF to the role of energy infrastructure within the TCPA regime, and as a crucial component of the Government’s growth agenda.

We believe that there are significant benefits to be realised by streamlining and rationalising the current suite of planning policy documents. However, we are concerned that there are some instances where useful detailed guidance for developers and local authorities, for example that in Planning Policy Statement 22 (“Renewable Energy”), has been omitted.

EDF Energy is concerned that the relationship between the designated National Policy Statements (NPS) and the draft NPPF has not been adequately articulated. It is essential that the two regimes are consistent in content, and that NPSs remain, beyond doubt, the primary decision-making documents for major infrastructure projects that fall under the Planning Act 2008. It is important that, in cases where developers may need to make applications for separate infrastructure as part of the same project under both national and local planning processes, national policy takes precedence. We believe that the NPSs should be a material consideration under the TCPA regime, and that this should be stated explicitly in the NPPF, in line with the wording in the NPSs.

We recommend that the NPPF should be non-spatial and non-prescriptive in nature, in line with the majority of the NPSs, as it is our view that the market is best placed to determine where energy projects should be developed. 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, eg nuclear power stations and associated development. We are concerned that a spatial approach runs the risk of local planning authorities rejecting legitimate proposals simply because a proposed site sits outside an area identified for energy generation. We believe that planning policy should retain a criteria-based approach (as per Planning Policy Statement 22), as opposed to an area/location-based one.

EDF Energy supports the requirement for local authorities to co-operate on planning issues that cross administrative boundaries but still believes that this duty needs to be strengthened further and that guidance is required on how this criterion will be enforced and fulfilled in practice.

Introduction

1. EDF Energy is one of the UK’s largest energy companies with activities throughout the energy chain. Our interests include nuclear, renewables, coal and gas-fired electricity generation, combined heat and power, and energy supply to end users. We have over five million electricity and gas customer accounts in the UK, including both residential and business users.

2. EDF Energy recognises the fundamental importance of a robust and predictable planning system to delivering sustainable development. We believe that large scale investment in electricity infrastructure is urgently required to replace existing plants, ensure security of supply, and meet our climate change targets, in particular the legally binding target to deliver an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as established in the Climate Change Act 2008. It is important that the transition to a low carbon economy is progressed efficiently to ensure that the competitiveness of UK energy supplies is maintained, while also ensuring the stability and affordability of energy prices. It is essential that the right decisions are made now to secure investment in large-scale low-carbon electricity generation and promote the transition to a low carbon economy incorporating a diverse energy mix.

3. We also recognise the valuable role that smaller scale energy infrastructure will play in meeting the Government’s statutory energy and climate change objectives. We therefore welcome the introduction of a simple and consolidated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that defines the UK’s national economic, environmental and social infrastructure, and clarifies the planning priorities that covers all development under the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA) regime.

4. We believe that there are significant benefits to be realised by streamlining and rationalising the current suite of planning policy documents such as Planning Policy Statements (PPS). We support the high-level, strategic nature of the draft NPPF and believe it will reduce the administrative burden for both developers and local authorities alike. However, as we will discuss, we believe that there are some instances where key policy aspects and useful guidance for developers, particularly those in PPS 1 (“Delivering Sustainable Development”) and PPS 22 (“Renewable Energy”), have been omitted. The absence of a PPS 22 type document removes important key principles which have helped to ensure planning authorities do not adopt policies that essentially discourage certain forms of renewable energy development e.g. onshore wind proposals. We would welcome further guidance from the Government as to how such aspects may be retained following the abolition of the PPSs.

5. EDF Energy also strongly supports the principle of proportionality in paragraph 59, and the requirement that local planning authorities “only request supporting information that is relevant, necessary and material to the application in question”. This will prevent over-burdening developers and making potential projects non-viable from the outset. However, we are keen to ensure that its implementation does not simply result in local planning authorities adopting a “tick box” approach to validation, and we would welcome further guidance from the Government on this.

Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development

6. EDF Energy actively supports the principle of having a “presumption in favour of sustainable development,” based on economic, social and environmental considerations, as a starting point for all local planning authority plans. We agree with paragraph 11 that “all three components should be pursued in an integrated way, looking for solutions which deliver multiple goals”.

7. We believe that more emphasis should be given to the role of energy infrastructure in the NPPF as a crucial component of the Government’s growth agenda. As currently drafted, energy infrastructure is simply a subset of the “climate change, flooding and coastal change” section, when there are compelling reasons for this to be the other way round. The NPPF should also recognise that low carbon energy infrastructure not only helps address climate change but also contributes to another key Government energy policy objective, security of supply.

8. We note that the definition of sustainable development in paragraph 10 incorporates the need for using the planning system to mitigate/adapt to climate change. However, we believe that given the urgency of the matter, explicit reference should be made in this section for the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as is the case in paragraph 150, and in line with other existing planning documents such as PPS 1 and PPS 22. We recommend that instead of simply referring to “the Government’s published objectives” (paragraph 148 of the draft NPPF), the text should explicitly refer to the Climate Change Act 2008 and the UK’s 2020 Renewable Energy Directive obligations. This will help ensure that sufficient weight is given by local planning authorities to the urgent need for low carbon energy infrastructure in meeting the UK’s energy and climate change obligations.

9. We seek further clarity on paragraph 16 of the draft NPPF (and its repetition in paragraph 170), which states that “development likely to have a significant effect on sites protected under Birds and Habitats Directive would not be sustainable under the terms of the presumption in favour of sustainable development”. We are unclear as to whether such a statement creates a presumption in favour of refusal in such circumstances, and whether this is consistent with PPS 22 (paragraph 11) that states that renewable projects can still be granted if “any significant adverse effects on the qualities for which the area has been designated are clearly outweighed by the environmental, social and economic benefits”.

10. EDF Energy believes that the presumption in favour of sustainable development will encourage local planning authorities to promote low carbon energy infrastructure. However, following the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies (and as a result an absence of regional targets for renewable energy), we do not believe there is sufficient clarity in the draft NPPF as to how the Government intends to incentivise local planning authorities to promote such developments on the scale needed to meet the UK’s energy policy objectives. It is critical that local planning authorities are required to align local priorities with national targets, and this should be monitored. We recommend that there should be 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 have a “positive strategy to promote energy from renewable and low-carbon sources” (paragraph 152).

11. Communities, just like investors, need to have appropriate incentives to encourage investment in national infrastructure but this has to be in a way that does not override the fundamental principles of planning (ie that planning permission cannot be bought or sold). The benefits accruing to local communities from the increase in development must be appropriately balanced with the need to mitigate and/or compensate for specific impacts. We would encourage the Government to explicitly refer to some of the incentives that will be available to local planning authorities in paragraph 18 of the draft NPPF, including Community Infrastructure Levy, Section 106 agreements, and the recent proposals for the retention of business rates. However, it should be made clear to local planning authorities that community benefits should be proportionate to the development being proposed, and should be considered against the context of the overall urgent need for energy infrastructure and its affordability, as articulated in the National Policy Statements (NPS).

12. We note that paragraph 60 of the draft NPPF states that developers and local planning authorities should consider entering into Planning Performance Agreements (PPA). However, it should be made clear that this is by no means an obligation on developers and should not be used to fund any statutory duties that the authority should already be providing.

Relationship with the National Policy Statements

13. The necessity of stable long-term policy framework is one of a number of reasons that we welcome the Government’s recent designation of the National Policy Statements for Energy Infrastructure. We believe that the NPSs establish a clear policy framework for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs), and will help ensure more timely and transparent decision making. Crucially, the NPSs work under the principle that consenting decisions will be taken on the basis of whether the overall benefits outweigh adverse impacts, after having taken account of mitigating actions. This principle should also apply to the NPPF.

14. However, our concern is that the relationship between the NPSs and the draft NPPF has not been adequately articulated. As currently drafted, the only reference to the NPSs is in paragraph 6 which simply states “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”. It is essential that the two regimes are consistent in content, and that NPSs remain, beyond doubt, the primary decision-making documents for major infrastructure projects that fall under the Planning Act 2008. Local planning authorities and community stakeholders already have opportunities to question and analyse such projects through the NSIP planning process, giving scope for the positive and negative impacts to be weighed as part of the decision-making process undertaken by the Infrastructure Planning Commission (to be superseded by the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit). It is important that, in cases where developers may need to make applications for separate infrastructure as part of the same project under both national and local planning processes, national policy takes precedence. We believe that the NPSs should be a material consideration under the TCPA regime, and that this should be stated explicitly in the NPPF, in line with the wording in the designated NPSs.

15. We note that paragraph 173 of the draft NPPF states that planning policies and decisions should aim to “avoid noise from giving rise to significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life”. This is in contrast to the more specific guidance in paragraph 22 of PPS 22 which specifies that “the 1997 report by ETSU for the Department of Trade and Industry should be used to assess and rate noise from wind energy development”. We believe that the policy in the NPPF should be consistent with that in the NPS for Renewable Energy Infrastructure (EN-3) which states that the Infrastructure Planning Commission “should use ETSU-R-97 to satisfy itself that the noise from the operation of the wind turbines is within acceptable levels” (paragraph 2.7.57).

Location of Energy Infrastructure

16. EDF Energy notes that bullet three of paragraph 152 states that local planning authorities should “consider identifying suitable areas for renewable and low carbon energy sources, and supporting infrastructure, where this would help secure the development of such sources”. However, in line with the majority of the NPSs, we recommend that the NPPF should be non-spatial and non-prescriptive in nature, as it is our view that the market is best placed to determine where energy projects should be developed. 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, eg a nuclear power station and its associated development. Additionally, the resource intensive nature of undertaking detailed spatial planning (be it centrally, regionally or locally), would inevitably lead to delays to the consenting of many projects with the result that the UK may not be able to meet its energy supply and climate change objectives.

17. We are concerned that a wider application of a spatial approach runs the risk of local planning authorities rejecting legitimate proposals simply because a proposed site sits outside an area identified for energy generation. A range of technical, operational, commercial, ecological and environmental factors must be considered when determining where to build a project e.g. the proximity of the grid network for all forms of generation. We do not believe that local planning authorities have the necessary expertise in-house to carry out such site identification exercises. The reality is that searching for suitable sites, such as for onshore wind, involves a proactive approach by developers to locate willing landowners, areas with favourable physical factors (eg wind speed), and where significant environmental effects can be sufficiently be mitigated. The resource intensity of this process should not be underestimated.

18. We also have reservations with regard to the reference in paragraph 153 of the draft NPPF to “opportunity areas for renewable and low-carbon energy”, and the expectation that development proposals outside these areas will be required to demonstrate that they meet “the criteria used in identifying opportunity areas”. We believe that this provides further encouragement to local planning authorities to adopt an approach based on identifying preferred areas. While we welcome the acknowledgement that it may be possible to propose areas outside “opportunity areas”, without knowing the criteria used in the identification of such sites, it may be difficult for developers to obtain planning consent. The determination of most wind farm proposals involves a planning balance between environmental issues and the benefits of securing renewable energy capacity. In light of the above considerations, we believe that the underlying assumption that local planning authorities can assist the process by identifying opportunity areas is likely to be unrealistic.

19. 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”. We note that this has been omitted from the draft NPPF, and are concerned that this will potentially lead to protracted arguments at the planning application and appeal stages over site selection. We believe that planning policy should retain a criteria-based approach (as per PPS 22), as opposed to an area/location-based one.

Duty to Co-operate

20. EDF Energy supports the requirement for local authorities to co-operate on planning issues that cross administrative boundaries but still believes that this duty needs to be strengthened further and that guidance is required on how this criterion will be enforced and fulfilled in practice.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011