ANALYSIS: Draft guidance aims to remove contradictions

Updated guidance on renewable energy should produce greater consistency in decision-making, reports Rosie Niven.

When the current planning guidance on renewable energy was produced, Mr Blobby was riding high in the charts and Norwich City Football Club was a force to be reckoned with.

But renewable energy has also moved on since the advent of PPG22. In 1993 wind farms were a novelty, but now UK planners regularly face applications for renewable energy resources as part of efforts to meet the government's target to generate ten per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010.

Last week's draft planning policy statement (PPS22) seeks to help the UK move towards meeting this target. PPG22 has been criticised by the renewables industry for its ambiguity, which has made it easier for councils to refuse applications without considering the wider environmental benefits of projects. The industry hopes that when finalised, PPS22 will end the lottery of inconsistent planning decisions.

The draft statement makes clear the need for positive planning that "facilitates renewable energy development". It calls for the "wider environmental and economic benefits" of renewable energy projects to be given "significant weight" in determining whether they should be granted planning permission.

The document also says that local and regional planning policies should "promote, rather than restrict" renewable energy resource development.

It emphasises that the government may intervene in the plan-making process if it feels that constraints placed on the development of renewables projects are too great.

Marcus Trinick, head of energy at law firm Bond Pearce, says that draft PPS22 includes "strong guidance that properly reflects energy policy".

Trinick, one of PPG22's authors, adds that the new guidance will "enable planning officers to give stronger recommendations and help inspectors at appeals".

Groups like the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) have traditionally had concerns about renewables' impact on the landscape. Last month the CPRE warned that PPS22 must allow pursuit of wider environmental benefits within local environmental constraints and outlined ten tests to measure whether the PPS successfully strikes a balance between these aims.

But CPRE senior natural resources campaigner Jill Hatcher welcomes the document. "We were surprised how well it expresses our ten points and especially pleased that we didn't see a predict-and-provide approach," she reveals.

The CPRE has welcomed the guidance's use of a criteria-based approach to determining applications for renewables development. There had been speculation that the document would allow planners to draw up zones where renewables applications would be more likely to get planning permission.

But this has been rejected in the draft PPS in favour of judging each case on its merits.

The document sets out strict conditions for proposals for designated sites. Development in internationally designated areas would have to be small scale or have overriding public interest benefits. Proposals for nationally designated sites should not compromise the designation or must produce benefits that outweigh any negative impact.

PPS22 rules against regional planning bodies and local planning authorities creating buffer zones around and applying policies to designated areas.

Trinick welcomes this move. "It's wrong to smear policy across a national park boundary," he stresses.

But some energy experts argue that PPS22 should go further in freeing up areas from development constraints. Robert Asquith, director of planning at Terence O'Rourke, insists that there is an argument for putting renewables close to the major energy markets, but that green belt policy gets in the way.

"Why should generating green energy not be an appropriate use of green belt land?" he asks. "If generating green energy is wrong, what is a green belt for?"

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