Mark Howard
Posted on 3 Feb 2015

Review of the impact of the National Planning Policy Framework on renewables

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was introduced in March 2012 and sets out, in a relatively slim line document, the national planning policy that has replaced a plethora of planning policy statements and guidance.  The NPPF places an emphasis on promoting sustainable development and in its core planning principles provides that planning should "support the transition to a low carbon future in a changing climate .......... and encourage the use of renewable sources (for example, by the development of renewable energy)".  

Section 10 of the NPPF concerns meeting the challenge of climate change.  Paragraph 97 is a particularly useful statement for renewables industry as it explains that to "help increase the use and supply of renewable and low carbon energy, local planning authorities should recognise the responsibility of all communities to contribute to energy generation from renewable or low carbon sources".

The NPPF goes on to encourage authorities to have a positive strategy to promote renewable energy, design policies to maximise renewable and low carbon energy development, consider identifying suitable sites, support community led initiatives and identify opportunities where development can draw its energy supply from decentralised, renewable or a low carbon energy supply system. The NPPF also states that:

  1. when determining planning applications local planning authorities should not require applicants to demonstrate the overall need for renewable energy or low carbon energy; and
  2. even small scale projects do provide a positive contribution by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.  

The second of the above statements has proved particularly contentious among planning committee members, faced with locally contentious projects that in some instances have a relatively low energy contribution. 

The operation of the NPPF has recently been reviewed by a Communities and Local Government Committee in the House of Commons.  On 9 December 2014 the Committee issued its Fourth Report of Session 2014-15.  The Report itself makes interesting reading, but sitting behind it are the minutes of the various sessions held by the Committee during which they heard submissions from all manner of interested parties across various industries.  

The panel session in relation to renewable energy involved representatives from Energy UK, Renewable Energy Systems and Renewable UK.  It is clear from the minutes that the participants took relatively little, or no, issue with the actual wording of the NPPF and agreed with its "spirit".  Nonetheless, they aired concerns with regard to how the NPPF was applied.  Chief amongst those was the continuing close monitoring and calling in of appeals by the Secretary of State.  Whilst there was an acknowledgement that the Secretary of State was testing his July 2013 guidance, the ongoing monitoring was generally considered excessive. In the view of the participants, this monitoring is preventing the planning inspectorate from developing its own expertise and best practice when determining such appeals.  

Time was also spent discussing the need for local authorities to actively plan in their local plans for the provision of renewables.  The session participants noted that very few planning authorities have the promotion of renewable energy as a theme running through their plans, and on the participants' wish list was for local planning authorities to get their plans up to date and ensure that the plans fully integrate the NPPF requirements set out above.  Participants also bemoaned the rising profile of the housing supply shortage versus the momentum, and traction in the media, that was previously being gained by the renewables industry. The statistic that stands out is that only 15% of policies adopted so far have any reference to energy or renewable energy in the form of supplementary planning guidance.  

The Report itself spends relatively little time discussing the renewables session, albeit it does note that the Secretary of State was found to be more likely to refuse renewables applications than those for other types of development.  The Report stops short of criticising the sheer amount of call ins by the Secretary of State.  Indeed it confirmed it found no evidence to suggest that the Secretary of State was doing anything other than determining the recovered appeals in accordance with Government policy.  However, the Committee did pick up on the comments made by participants as to the deterrence effect on investors if projects continued to spend upwards of 2 years (in the case of wind energy) in the planning system.  

Perhaps disappointingly therefore, the sole recommendation in the Report is that the Government take appropriate steps to speed up the process of taking decisions on recovered planning appeals and if necessary should allocate more resources to the team supporting the Secretary of State on such decisions.