What planners need to know about the British energy security strategy

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By Rebecca Windemer

Last week (7th April) the UK Government published the much awaited British energy security strategy. The strategy sets out plans for the future of energy generation in Great Britain. In this blog post I discuss the changes that are expected to occur for the planning system. Before doing so I will firstly provide a reminder of the headline figures from the strategy.

Key figures from the energy security strategy

The Energy Security Strategy sets out an ambition for up to 95% of Great Britain’s Electricity to be low carbon by 2030. This is expected to be achieved through the following:

– Up to 24GW nuclear by 2050

– 50GW offshore wind by 2030 (5GW of this from floating offshore wind)

– A licensing round for new North Sea oil and gas projects

– Heat pump manufacturing support

– Up to 10GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030

– Exploring the potential of increasing solar capacity

So, what changes are expected for the planning system?

  • Nuclear

While there is no direct mention of the planning system in relation to nuclear energy, the strategy states that the “government will work with the regulators to understand the potential for any streamlining or removing of duplication from the consenting and licensing of new nuclear power stations”. There is an evident ambition to progress projects as quicly as possible, and ‘the Great British Nuclear Vehicle’ will be set up in order to assist projects through the development process.

  • Offshore wind  

In order to achieve the new target of 50GW by 2030 the strategy recognises the need to speed up the planning system. Specifically, the strategy aims to reduce the planning consent time from four years to one year. A fast-track consenting route will be created for “priority cases where quality standards are met”. This will be achieved through amending the 2008 Planning Act in order to enable the Secretary of State to set shorter examination timescales.

The offshore wind section of the strategy also notes that the energy National Policy Statements will be updated in order to “reflect the importance of energy security and net zero”.

  • Onshore wind

Onshore wind was a subject of debate in the lead up to the publication of the strategy. The reason for this is that in 2015 the government changed the planning policy for onshore wind farms, as a result wind farms can only currently be built in 11% of local planning authorities in England and any applications then have to meet a community backing requirement. Despite calls to change the planning policy, the energy security strategy states that the government will not make “wholesale changes” to planning policy, but will consult “on developing local partnerships for a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for benefits”. It goes on to state that “the consultation will consider how clear support can be demonstrated by local communities, local authorities and MPs.” How this will be achieved and what a ‘limited number’ means is currently unclear, but given rumours of a large number of MP’s opposing onshore wind this could prove challenging.

The strategy also confirms that the government will “look at arrangements to support the repowering of existing onshore wind sites”. My research revealed existing challenges in decision making for repowering applications, so further policy / guidance will be useful.

Onshore wind turbines
  • Solar

Changes are anticipated for both rooftop and ground-mounted solar. The statement recognises that simplifying the planning process for rooftop solar could lead to a decrease in energy bills and an increase in jobs. It states that there will be a consultation on permitted development rights for rooftop solar, but there is no detail on when this can be expected. The statement also sets out the ambition to “consider the best way to make use of public sector rooftops. ” It also states that they will “design performance standards to make installation of renewables, including solar PV, the presumption in new homes and buildings.”

For ground-mounted solar there will be a consultation on “amending planning rules to strengthen policy in favour of development on non-protected land, while ensuring communities continue to have a say and environmental protections remain in place.” Again, there is no suggestion as to when this consultation will be expected. The strategy also states that they will encourage the development of large scale solar projects on land that is lower value or previously developed and  “ensure projects are designed to avoid, mitigate, and where necessary, compensate for the impacts of using greenfield sites.”

It is positive to see that the strategy sets out a commitment to supporting the co-location of solar with other land uses (e.g. onshore wind, storage or agriculture).

  • Energy network infrastructure

Increasing our domestic energy generation will require developing the necessary energy network infrastructure. The strategy sets of a target of developing a blueprint for the whole network system by the end of the year. It confirms that National Policy Statements will be updated to “recognise these blueprints in the planning system, increasing certainty for the planning inspectorate, developers and other stakeholders, and speeding up delivery”.

Looking to the future

It is clear that there will be a lot for planners to look out for. Currently, no consideration has been given to potential challenges for the resourcing of the planning system. Additionally, with the exception of onshore wind, there is a lack of consideration regarding how community input and acceptance will be assessed.

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