The IPC is dying – long live the IPC!
by Charles St George
The Coalition Government has announced that it will abolish the independent Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) that determines applications for major renewable energy schemes.
But if you talk to officials in the IPC they will tell you that, in practice, they expect very little to change. The IPC will be re-branded as the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit (MIPU), within the Planning Inspectorate, and the final decision on development consent orders (DCOs) will be taken by Ministers rather than independent commissioners.
The single consent regime introduced through the Planning Act 2008 and the requirements on promoters for preparing and consulting on a Statement of Community Consultation (SOCC), undertaking statutory pre-application consultation and preparing a Consultation Report to accompany a DCO will remain.
Indeed, there are even rumours circulating in Whitehall that the remit of the new MIU may be extended to encompass a wider range of projects that could be defined as “major infrastructure”. Many in the on-shore wind industry, for example, will be anxious to know whether the current threshold of 50MW of installed capacity will be lowered, given the high costs that are generally associated with IPC applications.
Perhaps of more fundamental concern for the renewable industry, where planning permissions seem to be harder and harder to come by, is how the Government’s new “localism” agenda will affect new development on the ground.
The position should become clearer by the end of this year when the Government’s Decentralisation and Localism Bill is published. One thing is already clear however – the Bill will give local councils and communities a far greater say in the planning process, so that mobilising community support for renewable energy schemes will become a necessary if not sufficient condition for delivering planning permissions.
As these changes take effect it is possible that the IPC/MIU may suddenly become a more attractive route for renewable energy developers, even for smaller schemes.
Localism and renewable energy – unlikely bedfellows?
By Sam Schofield
Earlier this month a DECC press release revealed an expectation that over half the new energy generating capacity built in the UK by 2025 will come from renewable sources. RenewableUK’s figures for the year to date in England demonstrate that 28 onshore wind applications have been approved while 34 (over half a gigawatt of capacity) have been refused (figures available to end of September 2010).
RenewableUK’s statistics include decisions taken by local planning authorities, the Secretary of State and at judicial review. Decisions taken at the local level only are typically weighted even more towards refusal. Tensions are apparent between the Government’s aspiration for a rapid build-out of green energy generating capacity and its much trumpeted localism agenda which promotes the role of local communities in planning decisions.
The majority of renewable energy proposals in England and Wales do not exceed the 50MW. This is important because projects over the threshold are considered “nationally significant” and are dealt with by the present Infrastructure Planning Commission.
Although there are rumours circulating of a future wider remit for the MIPU, at present most renewable energy applications are dealt with by local planning authorities. This means local politicians sitting on planning committees decide the fate of the majority of renewable energy schemes.
So how are the Government and the energy sector to meet aspirations for a boom in renewable energy while the planning system is seemingly stacked against new development? The Government has put forward a proposal to allow communities to keep the business rates generated by new wind farms for six years. More details will become apparent in the Decentralisation and Localism Bill due to be published before Christmas.
In short, local people who tend to object to major development will now see benefits from proposals in terms of spend in their communities. Local incentives will translate into local support for renewable energy proposals. Councillors will perceive a shift in public opinion, resulting in a sustained flow of consents from local planning authorities. The principle of direct incentivisation appears logically sound but this approach raises new questions and doubts:
- How is the community defined – street by street, at a parish/community council level?
- Who decides on how the business rates are spent – existing bodies such as parish councils or bespoke groups of local people brought together for this specific purpose?
- Will the funds supplied be used to compensate individuals or provide public goods in the area.
- How will all of this be administered?
Assuming that many opponents of major development proposals do so under the assumption that their house values will be adversely affected, the six year limit on the business rate proposal would not boost the long term value of property.
Aside from these issues, it is worth considering that the renewable energy sector has been in the vanguard of offering community benefits alongside new development for some time. For larger wind farms, tens of thousands of pounds are often provided by the developer on a yearly basis in community benefit.
As RenewableUK’s latest figures suggest, this well established practice has not led to the universal acceptance of new wind farms. There is no reason to suppose that another tranche of money under the business rate proposals will be a short cut to accelerated development. The perennial issue of local opposition to major development proposals will endure.
Developers will still be well advised to invest time and resources in order to understand the community and decision-making at the local level, then carry out a bespoke programme of community engagement to maximise chances of planning success.
Barrage blow piles pressure on WAG
by Charles St George
Developers warned to mobilise local political support…or face refusal
Despite the Welsh Assembly Government’s (WAG) recently amplified commitment to renewables, local political and community resistance continues to hamper the Country’s ambitions to become a low-carbon economy.
Just two weeks before Chris Huhne took an axe to the Severn Barrage, WAG published its Climate Change Strategy setting out how it will meet its ambitious emissions-cutting targets.
Key to the strategy is its commitment to support renewables planning applications, set out in its March 2010 Energy Policy Statement A Low Carbon Revolution; in the report WAG underscored its goal to pursue projects in existing Strategic Search Areas set out in TAN 8 Planning for Renewable Energy.
But of 37 delayed power projects awaiting ministerial sign-off in August, 11 were in Wales; some have been delayed for years, including CeltPower’s 126MW onshore wind-farm application for the Newtown area made in May 2008.
In August the CBI called on the Government to ‘get a grip on planning’, demanding the backlog be resolved. Other critics have described WAG’s strategy as ‘vague’ and lacking detail.
At the heart of the problem, remains the thorny issue of local resistance to planning applications; in Swansea earlier in the year npower Renewable’s plans for a wind farm on land owned by the Duke of Beaufort’s Somerset estate at Mynydd y Gwair was rejected after local opposition.
According to PPS’ South West and Wales director Andrew Smith the renewables industry is making a mistake if it is looking to WAG to tackle the issue.
“Whether a proposal is in front of the IPC, its successor, the MMO, WAG itself or – in the case of onshore wind schemes under 50MW – local authorities, developers must engage with local communities and mobilise support. Otherwise the vocal minority will be the only voice heard – and local politicians will be forced to vote against applications,” he said.
Charles St George, Director firstname.lastname@example.org / 01454 275630
Sam Schofield, Director email@example.com / 0161 832 2139
Andrew Smith, Director firstname.lastname@example.org / 01454 275630
Attending RenewablesUK 2010? PPS will be there – please get in touch if you would like to arrange a meeting during the conference.
Written by Andrew Smith