Clear guidance on siting permits -- Government action

New draft planning guidance on renewable energy developments in England is being welcomed by the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). For too long, developers have had to face a lottery of inconsistent site permit decisions, it says. Publication of the government's long-awaited proposed planning policy statement (PPS 22) kicks off a consultation with siting permit authorities and renewable energy developers.

Refusals of consent and permit delays for wind projects is holding up progress towards meeting the UK's ambitious 10% renewables target. Planning minister Yvette Cooper says: "In the past, some local authorities have ruled out almost any development of this sort. We want to see a more considered approach, so the planning system is used positively rather than negatively." She says local authorities need to take account of wider and long term considerations, not just the immediate impact on the local environment.

PPS 22 replaces outdated guidance published in 1992 and requires regional permitting bodies to "promote and encourage" rather than restrict the development of renewable energy. Regional plans should contain minimum targets for renewables which should be monitored and increased if they are met. Separate regional targets should be adopted for offshore technologies. It also says that planning authorities should foster community involvement in renewable energy projects and promote greater public acceptance of renewables.

The guidance clarifies advice for wind project developers and planning authorities over developments in environmentally designated areas, such as national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and greenbelts. Planning officers and members of local government should look at visual and cumulative impacts on a case by case basis, but should also give "significant weight" to the environmental and economic benefits of proposals.

BWEA says the new guidance will help resolve inconsistencies in the planning system that sees different approaches to determining wind energy applications around England. "At long last we have a clear national policy stance that sets out the importance of developing wind and other renewables at a regional, county and local level," says the BWEA's Chris Tomlinson. "This new guidance will act as a positive shot in the arm for our industry."

The public consultation over PPS 22 is open until January 30, 2004. Meantime, the Department of Trade and Industry is inviting feedback on draft policy guidance on renewables, intended to complement PPS 22. It is intended to help regions develop strategic approaches to renewable energy.