The wind industry has been eagerly awaiting the publication of Planning Policy Statement 22 (PPS22) to give planning officers and officials a clearer steer on government policies and targets for renewables. Tomlinson points out that planners and councillors have until now been working with guidance 11 years old "written at a time when renewable energy targets had not even been set."
Minister for planning Keith Hill calls PPS22 a "positive and significant step" towards delivering more renewables energy developments to meet the UK's climate change commitments. "Our communities will only be truly sustainable if their energy needs are met from renewable sources," he says. "That is why we have included new policies within PPS22 to allow local planning authorities to set requirements for renewable energy in new buildings, as well as policies on the encouragement of small scale renewable resources in existing developments." Hill emphasises that the guidelines apply equally to all renewable energy technologies, not just wind.
The guidelines stress that regional and local plans should promote and encourage, rather than restrict, renewables developments; that regional spatial strategies should set targets for renewable generation; and that local authorities should set out criteria in their plans for judging renewables projects rather than identifying suitable locations.
A first step
Tomlinson adds: "PPS22 is the first step in a cascading process which will see regional renewable energy targets and dedicated planning policies for renewable energy finding their way into regional and local level plans."
New research by the BWEA reveals the average wind farm planning application in England takes nearly 12 months to be decided -- three times longer than the recommended guide time for all developments. The association warns that unless the decision making process is speeded up, the UK risks not meeting its target for 10% electricity from renewables by 2010.
The research examined all planning decisions since 1999. It shows that the average time for projects in planning has increased from 9.4 months to 11.2 months. Meantime, in Scotland, decisions for projects of more than 50 MW are taking between two to three years. The BWEA is calling for decision making authorities to be better staffed and have better resources -- particularly the teams deciding large projects. It is also calling for streamlining of the decision process to minimise delays caused by negotiations over planning conditions after consent has been granted. Agreeing the details of planning conditions for a wind farm can take a further six to 12 months.
"Some wind projects are taking two to three years to determine," says Tomlinson. "This is not an issue about whether a project is approved or refused, but instead is about ensuring we have a planning system that is able to deliver timely, robust decisions which address all the issues."