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United Kingdom

Permitting process still a major barrier -- England-Scotland divide

The British government is putting the finishing touches to a draft document of guidance for local authorities on the granting of permits for wind plant sites. Wind developers are hoping this will lead to a more positive planning climate for wind energy in England -- similar to that enjoyed by Scottish developers. Meantime, the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) says it is to focus more attention on onshore wind to boost the rate of planning approvals for projects.

Details of the long-awaited draft planning guidance for renewable energy are expected to be launched this month by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the government department responsible for controlling use of land. But this is only the beginning of a public consultation period that will not see the guidance in place until well into 2004. The wind industry hopes that the new planning policy statement, PPS 22, will provide a positive framework for local authorities and planning inspectors when considering wind energy projects, in line with the more favourable attitudes of planners in Scotland.

Local councils in England and Wales, meantime, are determining projects based on advice published in 1993. This does not provide the clear and positive guidance local authorities need in preparing their development plans, says the BWEA's Chris Tomlinson. "Inevitably the technology has since moved on, the noise issue can now be overcome, government policy on energy has evolved and so planning policy has to change to reflect that."

Compared with the outdated English planning advice, Scottish guidance stresses the proactive role local authorities can play in helping meet the country's renewables objectives. Produced by the Scottish Executive in 2000, NPPG 6 expects planning authorities in Scotland to facilitate and guide renewable projects in their development plans, emphasising their contribution to rural development, jobs and the economy.

"It could be argued that the Scottish Executive have recognised the clear economic benefits of renewables to industry in Scotland and are capitalising on those benefits," comments Tomlinson.

Four times more

The different approaches to planning are reflected in the amount of wind capacity under development in both countries. He points out that in Scotland developers are progressing some 4600 MW of onshore wind projects in the early pre-planning stages of development-nearly 75% of the UK total-while only around 1000 MW is in similar early stages of development in England.

The BWEA has announced it is to devote more resources to helping projects successfully through the planning process. Chief executive Marcus Rand says that 1400 MW of wind projects are currently in the planning system awaiting a decision. "We want to make sure that as much of that goes through as possible."

He points out that the government's policy for renewables support gives wind the opportunity to prove itself. By the time of the government reviews progress towards its renewables targets in 2005/6, wind will have to have proved that it is capable of delivering. "The more wind we can get built onshore, the more likely it is that the government will be favourable to wind when it carries out its review." The association has appointed a planning officer whose first job will be to see that local authorities throughout the country incorporate correctly the latest government policy guidance in their development plans, says Rand.

At the same time, BWEA is rolling out a major educational program, aimed initially at local councillors and planning officials, he says. "The BWEA has got to be more focused in targeting the 1500 decision makers out there in local and regional planning." The program kicked off at the end of September with a one day conference in Hull in north-east England on planning for wind energy combined with a wind farm visit. Some 140 planners were expected to attend.

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