10. Consents and Planning
Objective: an approach to planning and consenting which ensures that acceptable renewable energy developments can proceed expeditiously and discourages proposals which do not accord with wider energy, environmental and planning objectives.
Summary of actions 26
- The Scottish Government is working with the industry to make decisions more quickly by improving the quality of applications, introducing more certainty about turnaround times and ensuring that more robust procedures are implemented.
- A number of other improvements are under way, including focusing upcoming Public Local inquiries where appropriate on key outstanding issues, reviewing the fee structure and distribution, and taking initiatives to promote solutions to conflicts with aviation and radar.
- Both renewable energy power generation and grid reinforcements are given priority in the National Planning Framework 2: Discussion Draft and planning authorities have been invited to prepare supplementary planning guidance for wind farms
- Scottish Ministers are currently consulting on a Scottish Marine Bill that contains provisions for the creation of a marine planning system and streamlined marine consents.
10.1. The importance of planning for renewables development and deployment is set out in Scottish Planning Policy ( SPP) 6 - Renewable Energy, published in 2007. It looks to planning authorities to prepare up-to-date policies, including spatial frameworks for wind farms over 20 MW, through the development planning process or as supplementary planning guidance. Some 2.8 GW of installed renewable electricity capacity are currently in place in Scotland, a further 1 GW are under construction, with applications for a further 2.4 GW currently being considered. The Scottish Government is working with stakeholders to make decisions more quickly by improving the quality of applications, introducing more certainty about turnaround times and ensuring that more robust procedures are implemented.
10.2. The Scottish Government welcomes the report by the sub group of the Forum on Renewable Developments in Scotland ( FREDS) on the Planning and Consenting of Renewables in Scotland. The Government agrees with the sub group that urgent steps need to be taken to streamline the consenting process to ensure that appropriate developments can proceed in a reasonable timeframe, while discouraging inappropriate applications which do not meet wider energy and environmental objectives. Ministers are already dealing with applications without unnecessary delay, but are continually looking for improvements in the process which will allow applications to proceed more quickly to determination. The message is that we need more renewables, but not at any price - the best applications are those that recognise planning policies and take care to resolve environmental and other concerns in advance.
10.3. To this end we have already announced a series of measures to improve consents procedures under s 36 and s 37 of the Electricity Act. Working with the industry, our aim is to make decisions more quickly by improving the quality of applications, introducing more certainty about turnaround times and ensuring that more robust procedures are implemented. We have announced that we shall henceforth work to an objective of having new applications being determined within nine months where there is no public inquiry. In December 2007, inspired by the work of the FREDS subgroup, and with the aim of improving the consents process, the Scottish Government has released revised scoping guidance for developers 27.
10.4. The introduction of the revised scoping guidance for Electricity Act Consent proposals has reinforced the strong steer the Scottish Government gives to potential developers around the need to carry out as much pre application consultation and preparation as possible. This may mean that difficult issues which currently arise during consideration of the application itself, such as compliance with the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives and aviation and radar interests, can be minimised, thus saving considerable time and effort in the formal process. At present the use of scoping and compliance with its recommendations is voluntary, although highly recommended if the applicant wishes to reach determination in the target timescale.
10.5. We also want to join up earlier with our stakeholders and developers to discuss future projects. We have agreed with SEPA to, where practical, hold joint pre-application meetings with developers so that advice on hydro applications in particular is given in the round. In addition, SNH encourages pre-application dialogue and advises developers to seek advice on potential natural heritage impacts at this early stage, to help ensure that sufficient data is gathered in line with standard methodology and an adequate assessment of environmental impact prepared. The SNH Renewable Energy Service Level Statement can be found at www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/strategy/renewable/RE-SLS.pdf
10.6. In addition an application checklist has also been introduced by the Scottish Government and is compulsory for all new applications along with a timetable for Section 36 consents process. All these new documents will aid in the Scottish Government's aim to make decisions more quickly by improving quality of applications, providing more certainty about turnaround times and more robust procedures. A number of other improvements are under way, including focusing upcoming Public Local Inquiries where appropriate on key outstanding issues, reviewing the fee structure and distribution and taking similar steps to front load the consultation process for Electricity Consents as are currently being developed for the Planning system.
10.7. The Scottish Government has also taken a number of steps to streamline and modernise the planning system so that it helps deliver increased sustainable economic growth. Planning will deliver sustainable development by ensuring development in the right place and of the right quality. A key initiative, building on the Planning Act (Scotland) 2006 is the preparation of the second National Planning Framework ( NPF setting out a strategy for Scotland's long-term spatial development. The draft National Planning Framework 2 provides a view of Scotland as a place and identifies likely change to ensure each part of the country can develop to its full potential. It also identifies key strategic infrastructure needs so that we can plan for the right investment in the right places. A statement on the criteria for identifying national developments in Scotland's second National Planning Framework was made in Parliament on 13 September 2007 by John Swinney MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth. Projects which may be identified as national developments are those which:
- make a significant contribution to Scotland's sustainable economic development;
- strengthen Scotland's links with the rest of the world;
- deliver strategic improvements in internal connectivity;
- make a significant contribution to the achievement of climate change, renewable energy or waste management targets;
- are essential elements of a programme of investment in national infrastructure; or
- raise strategic issues of more than regional importance (projects with impacts on more than one city region, for example).
10.8. The Proposed Framework recognises that the capacity of parts of the energy transmission system need to be increased to facilitate the generation of electricity from renewable sources. The draft National Planning Framework 2 sets out what the Scottish Government views as national developments including upgrades to the onshore transmission grid (including connections to the Islands). As already noted, designation as a national development in the final version of the NPF2 will establish the principle of such developments and any subsequent inquiry would focus on issues such as design and the mitigation of environmental impacts, and would not re-address the matter of principle. (This does not impact on applications already under consideration such as Beauly-Denny.) This has a similar impact to the proposed National Policy Statements in England, although the process is very different. The draft National Planning Framework 2 also acknowledges the potential for the development of a sub-sea transmission grid, allowing Scotland to develop its offshore generation potential, and to connect across the North Sea and Irish Sea into other EU markets for export.
10.9. In respect of renewable energy, Scottish Planning Policy number 6, issued in 2007, sets out how the planning system should manage the process of encouraging, approving and implementing renewable energy proposals when preparing development plans and determining planning applications. This policy document also applies to applications considered under s36 and s37 of the Electricity Act. Planning authorities have been invited to prepare locational guidance, in the form of supplementary planning guidance and a second Annex to Planning Advice Note 45 will be published advising authorities on the preparation of that guidance. The Scottish Government has appointed consultants to advise planning authorities on this task, who are organising a series of seminars for local authority planners and have prepared a website designed to help answer questions that arise.
10.10. The FREDS group has highlighted the need to work closely with local authorities to develop good practice and consistency in the way decision making on planning applications for renewable energy. The work which is already under way to prepare locational guidance at local authority level will help this process. In addition, given the importance of working closely together to meet the agreed national outcome on renewable energy, the Scottish Energy Minister will hold a seminar during the year with local authority councillors and other stakeholders to raise awareness of the importance of the target and the locational guidance, to highlight good practice already under way and to discuss relevant issues. The aim of these seminars will be to seek to develop a consensus on the way the locational guidance will be implemented at Scottish and local level and the way in which local communities can make an effective input to the process.
10.11. Scottish Ministers are currently consulting on a Scottish Marine Bill that contains provisions for the creation of a marine planning system and streamlined marine consents. Both a marine planning system and streamlined marine consenting will simplify the delivery of wet projects and are in line with proposals for terrestrial renewable energy development. The marine planning system will operate at a national and regional level, the national marine plan for Scotland will link to the national planning framework and will set out the high level objectives eg targets growth sector such as wet renewables. Ministers intend the system have a GIS component to assist site selection. A regional plan will set out the vision for the marine region agreed by stakeholders and within the broad parameters created by the national plan. Plans are based on the notion that there is a presumption of use, ie an area of sea can be used for a purpose unless that purpose it is specifically excluded from that area. It is anticipated that Marine Scotland will oversee the planning system and as a minimum will operate as a front door for all marine consents.
Aviation and Radar Issues
10.12. Wind farm proposals can impact significantly on primary, secondary or weather radar stations and thus affect public safety as well as national defence. Where actual or potential conflicts exist, it is important that a solution is identified as wind farm applications are being developed and considered. We are working with UK Government Departments and bodies such as Civil Aviation Authority ( CAA), National Air Traffic Services En Route Ltd ( NERL) and Scottish airports to seek to promote solutions to potential conflicts. The issue is highlighted in scoping guidance for s36 applications and planning policy guidance and new guidance on consultation with aviation and radar stakeholders is being prepared.
10.13. Recognising that growing aviation and radar issues could hamper plans for growth in renewables, the UK Prime Minister announced on 17 November (in his speech on climate change) that he had asked the Secretaries of State for Defence, Business and Transport to step up their efforts, in cooperation with industry and the regulators, to identify and test technical solutions to the potential difficulties wind farms pose to air traffic and defence radar. This issue is being taken forward by the UK Government's Aviation Board, in which the Scottish Government is participating with the aim of ensuring that Scotland can be given equal priority in the implementation of the initiative. There is no universal solution mitigating the effects of wind turbines on radar; therefore work is continuing on a series of workable mitigation solutions endorsed by aviation stakeholders which offer the opportunity for constructive dialogue between wind farm developers and aviation stakeholders to identify, explore and implement mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of wind turbines on radar to acceptable levels. The Board is hoping for some quick solutions to current problems, but in practice most of the solutions will be implemented in the next decade.
10.14. In the Scottish context it is important that work is taken forward in parallel with the UK activity to promote solutions to regional specific problems, for example in respect of issues affecting both airport radar and in en route radar in the Scottish Terminal Manoeuvring Area . This issue is being looked at in the context of the development of locational guidance in this area, where it will be important to ensure that aviation constraints are properly recognised while also recognising that mitigation solutions can be found more effectively by developers working together with the aviation authorities.
10.15. It is also important to recognise that ideally clarity is required about both the content and timing of solutions to aviation and radar issues before developers pursue an application as far as a decision. Not doing so would run the risk of freezing development in a number of areas given the need to count existing approvals as cumulative impact is considered. Failure to address aviation issues before lodging planning applications may result is applications being found to be insufficient.
10.16. As well as the plans in respect of marine planning and consents (paragraph 10.11 above), some of the proposals to change the consenting process in respect of s36 and s37 applications will also require changes to the primary legislation. Since these sections are "executively devolved" it is necessary to seek the approval of Westminster if the Scottish Parliament is to be given the power to make such changes. For the most part the changes can be given effect without such legislative change, but some changes ( e.g. in respect of the trigger for inquiries and the relationship between the two consenting regimes in respect of the threshold for consents) will require such primary legislative change. The Scottish Government has written to the UK Government to propose that such a change be agreed by Westminster and will be following this up in contacts with the UK Government and in the National Conversation.
Questions for debate
- How can developers be encouraged to work closely with planning authorities and local communities to improve the quality of applications?
- Can more we done to develop joint working between central Government, planning authorities and statutory and non statutory consultees in pursuit of the Government's ambitions on renewable energy?
- Given the growing number of issues connected with aviation and radar and wind farm development, especially in Southern Scotland, is there scope for cooperation between developers and aviation interests to promote a regional solution to complement the overall UK approach?
STREAMLINING ENERGY CONSENTS: TABLE OF CURRENT AND PROPOSED ACTIONS
Message: we need more renewables but not at any price - the best applications are those that take care to resolve environmental and planning concerns in advance
Our aim is to make decisions more quickly by improving the quality of applications, introducing more certainty about turnaround times and ensuring that more robust procedures are implemented
Who is involved
Proposed next step
National Planning Framework grid reinforcements 'national developments'.
Revisions being made to Discussion Draft in light of consultation responses and Proposed Framework being prepared.
Proposed Framework to be laid before Parliament after the October recess for 60 days scrutiny.
Final NPF2 to be published early 2009
SPP6 planning authorities prepare locational guidance
SG Planning authorities
Consultants appointed and holding seminars Second Annex to Planning Advice Note 45
Locational guidance to be in place in 2009
Aviation and radar
SG, UK Government, airport authorities, NATS
SG supporting UK initiative to bring on new solutions, also case by case approach
Include spatial dimension in locational guidance. Regional initiatives in Southern Scotland
Legislative change to s 36 and s 37
( e.g. on trigger for public inquiries and to bring Electricity Act and Planning Acts closer together
UK Govt, UK Parliament, SG, Scottish Parliament
UK Ministers considering introducing at Westminster
Considering detailed changes required: legislative devolution would be easier
Encouraging developers to use SG scoping services
SG, Developers, Stakeholders
Scoping guidance being revised
Reissue with strong recommendation, including for pre application consultation
Application checklist compulsory
Applications reviewed against checklist before formal acceptance
Determine new applications within nine months where there is no public inquiry
SG, stakeholders, developers
8 applications currently in system, Energy Consents Unit has reviewed processes, timing will depend on comments from consultees
Review progress on first 6 applications in late 2008.
Encourage local authorities to share in 50% national outcome
Focus PLIs on key issues
Already used at Ben Mhor (Lewis)
Guidance being prepared.
Consider legislative change (see below)
Review current fee sharing regime to resource key stakeholders
SG, planning authorities, SNH, SEPA, Renewables Industry
stakeholder workshops planned
Improve public and community consultation
Developers, SG, planning authorities
Pre application consultation recommended.
Public Participation Directive transposed by new regulation - The Electricity Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2008 came into force in Sept 2008
Prepare good practice guidance for developers detailing pre-application case studies.
Guidance to support new regulations published
Improved guidance and active case management
SG with stakeholders
SG Website updated
Develop a Scotland-wide database on renewable developments in Scotland
Simplified approach to consent offshore developments.
Guidance issued for current applications
Marine Bill consultation document proposal promotes the development of marine planning and simplified regulation
Concordat with Local Authorities offers new opportunity to refresh and reinvigorate the co-working of the two bodies in considering renewable energy developments.
SG, Planning Authorities
Scottish Ministers are keen to ensure that both regimes are supportive of each other and will be offering planning authorities greater guidance on effective delivery, consideration of applications, and community engagement.
Minister to offer to hold seminar on joint working
Processing agreements for major developments
Planning authorities, developers