Planning ahead

Written by Kate Shannon on 26 September 2014 in Feature

What do new planning rules mean for renewables?

Planning Minister Derek Mackay recently launched the Scottish Government’s vision for planning in Scotland, which included a number of issues of interest to the renewables sector. The National Planning Framework 3 (NPF3) and Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) is designed to shape long-term economic development and local planning policy in areas such as transport, town centres, energy and infrastructure, and balance economic growth with protection of our environment.

NPF3 confirms the Government’s support for 14 large-scale national developments, including major regeneration schemes at Dundee Waterfront and Ravenscraig, carbon capture and storage schemes in Peterhead and Grangemouth, and support for improvements at our airports.

However, both NPF3 and SPP also place a ban on wind-farm development in the 19 per cent of Scotland identified as National Parks and National Scenic Areas. Significant protection is provided to sensitive areas of land identified within Scottish Natural Heritage’s Wild Land Areas Map 2014. In total, approximately 30 per cent of Scotland’s landscape will benefit from stronger protection against inappropriate development. 

In addition to the new rules protecting Scotland’s most scenic areas, tighter controls on onshore oil and gas developments have been introduced. Five new measures are also being introduced in relation to hydraulic fracturing, including bringing in a requirement for buffer zones to ensure development only proceeds if communities and the environment can be protected. Operators will also have to consult with communities on their proposals.

Joss Blamire, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, welcomed the new measures. He said: “We’re pleased that the new planning guidelines recognise that renewables developments are an essential part of Scotland’s future. NPF3 and SPP highlight the importance of developments across renewable heat, electricity and transport in order to make Scotland more successful and sustainable.

“It is essential that we strike the right balance between harnessing our fantastic wind resource and protecting Scotland’s most valued landscapes. That’s why we support the Scottish Government’s efforts to make National Scenic Areas and National Parks off limits to large-scale applications. We need to remember that the onshore wind sector supports thousands of jobs, has attracted billions of pounds of investment and generates enough carbon-free electricity to meet the equivalent of almost a third of Scotland’s needs. It is also the cheapest form of renewable energy that can be built at the scale we need.

“The Scottish Government needs to ensure the new planning framework does not rule out good quality proposals out with National Scenic Areas and National Parks, and we reaffirm our view that new developments are best judged on a case-by-case basis. It would be in nobody’s interest for Scotland to lose out on the important environmental, economic and social opportunities that are created by the onshore wind sector.”

Derek Mackay believes this is a “watershed for planning in Scotland”.

He added: “Our ambition is to create great places that support economic growth across the country, and together, NPF3 and the SPP set out a shared vision for Scotland as a place which benefits from a positive planning system that protects our unique environment. NPF3 confirms our support for 14 national developments that will drive economic growth, champion our most successful places, and support changes in areas where, in the past, there has been a legacy of decline.

“This strategic focus will support the regeneration and reindustrialisation of Scotland, as well as improving transport and connectivity links, and ensuring sustainable development through support for green networks and low carbon energy supply. The Scottish Government remains strongly committed to releasing Scotland’s onshore wind energy potential, however, we have always made clear that we want the right developments in the right places.

“We have taken steps to ensure that no wind-farm developments can go ahead in our cherished National Parks and National Scenic Areas, and we have strengthened the protection of wild land, with new maps and inclusion directly in the SPP and NPF3. This new policy also gives serious consideration to concerns over unconventional oil and gas with five main changes to strengthen planning policy. 

“These include new rules on hydraulic fracturing which will compel operators to consult with the public. In addition, buffer zones will be established to protect communities and these will be assessed by planning authorities and statutory consultees. Any application for coalbed methane or shale gas projects must comply with the appropriate regulatory regimes, including SEPA’s guidance on the regulation of shale gas and coalbed methane.”

Responding to the news, the Scottish Conservatives warned that the SNP cannot be allowed to compensate for the ban in areas of natural beauty by allowing more wind farms to be built in other places.

Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Murdo Fraser who chairs the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism committee said: “Public opposition to wind turbines in areas of high scenic value has been growing, and that has forced the Scottish Government to respond with this announcement. These measures will afford a greater degree of protection than currently exists, but wind farms will still be possible on wild lands.

“We need a complete overhaul of planning policy for wind power to ensure that decisions are taken at a local level. It’s critical that areas of natural beauty are protected, but the problem goes far beyond that. People living in rural settings are still constantly subjected to the threat of developers – egged on by the Scottish Government – building massive turbines on their doorstep. And the SNP, in its unreasonable drive to generate 100 per cent of electricity from renewables, cannot be allowed to place more wind farms in other areas to make up for this announcement.”  

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