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Planning approvals down for solar and wind but system ‘chaotic and unsustainable’

25 July 2014

• Planning approvals down but system is too reliant on direct ministerial intervention
• Strategic planning needed to help neighbouring councils minimise impact on shared landscapes 
• Clearer policy and guidance would limit damage to the countryside
• Incentives needed for use of commercial and brownfield sites

 

Ministerial intervention and planning reforms have resulted in a 20% drop in approvals for wind turbines and solar farms in the countryside over the last year, a new report [1] launched by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) concludes. However, stopping inappropriate developments that may damage the countryside has relied heavily on direct intervention by the Secretary of State. Better planning and fiscal incentives are needed to locate renewable energy on appropriate sites.

CPRE’s report ‘The countryside generation game: the effect of changes in planning for renewable energy one year on’ analyses decisions on renewable energy developments and considers the impact of changes to planning policies on the countryside one year since they were introduced.

The research found that the Secretary of State approved only 22% [2] of appeals in the last year, compared with 100% the year before, demonstrating the huge impact of his involvement. This has helped reduce impacts on the local environment, but CPRE warns that without clearer planning policy, better strategic planning and incentives for renewable energy on brownfield sites and commercial buildings, the countryside is still at risk due to unpredictable ministerial interventions as the pressure for renewable projects grows.

There is enough space for more than 250,000 hectares of solar panels without damaging the countryside - which is equivalent to almost twice the size of London - based on the number of south-facing roofs in the UK and potential brownfield land [3]. CPRE is calling for fiscal incentives to prioritise brownfield and commercial sites, such as enhancing subsidies for well-sited and well-designed solar farms that use brownfield sites unsuitable for housing.

The report welcomes the Government’s plans to stimulate expansion of solar electricity on commercial rooftops, but without significant work to remove major barriers the full potential won’t be realised.

Councils also need clear and robust guidance on how to deal with the cumulative impacts of energy infrastructure including renewables in the same vicinity or across local authority boundaries. CPRE’s report found that revised planning guidance introduced last year had made no significant difference to the way cumulative effects were considered during appeals.

Nick Clack, Senior Energy Campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said:

“We applaud the Government for taking action to stop renewable energy projects that would have a damaging effect on the countryside. But without a clearer and more strategic approach to planning in the first place, we’re relying on one Minister to intervene and protect our landscapes.

“Planning policy must be further clarified to make sure that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protection and the wishes of local communities. A more robust planning system would also provide more certainty for communities, developers and investors.

“The current approach to planning renewable projects, that are needed to produce low-carbon energy, is chaotic and unsustainable. With the pressure for renewable energy in the countryside only set to increase, we need to see further improvements in planning policy and incentives for brownfield and commercial sites.”

 

Notes to Editors

[1] The countryside generation game: the effect of changes in planning for renewable energy one year on’ is available on CPRE’s website here. Based on DECC’s Renewable Energy Planning Database, 81% of onshore wind and solar farm projects were approved between 30th July 2012 – 1st May 2013, compared with 61% between 30th July 2013 – 1st May 2014.

[2] Based on an overall total of 294 planning appeal decisions, including those decided by the Secretary of State, between 30th July 2012 – 13th May 2013 and 30th July 2013 – 13th May 2014, which CPRE analysed for the report.

[3] The UK Solar PV Strategy estimates 250,000 hectares of south-facing rooftops. Government figures from 2009 suggest 60,000 hectares of brownfield land is available in England, of which up to half is suitable for housebuilding.

Case studies

More details on case studies included in the report are available. Please contact Benjamin Halfpenny for more information: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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