The climate emergency and net zero targets will continue to be a big issue in 2020, especially with the COP26 Summit being held in Glasgow.

Context – UK and Scotland

The Queen’s Speech in late December confirmed the UK Government will continue to take steps to meet the target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2019 sets a legally-binding “net-zero” target of 2045 for Scotland.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy will play an important role in meeting the targets – the Committee on Climate Change noted that:

“CONSISTENTLY STRONG DEPLOYMENT OF LOW-CARBON GENERATION WILL BE NEEDED TO QUADRUPLE LOW-CARBON SUPPLY BY 2050”

The CCC also told the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations there is a requirement for a “favourable planning regime for low-cost onshore wind”.

National Planning Framework

The Scottish Government has opened a Call for Ideas about priorities for the next National Planning Framework (NPF4).

A draft for public consultation is expected to be published in Q3 2020, just before COP26.

NPF4 can incorporate the lessons learned from the many renewables developments that have gone through the planning system in the last 5 years, as well as market developments such as the availability of taller turbines and advances in other renewable technologies.

Key issues:

  • Does the positive support already advocated by the Scottish Government in Scottish Planning Policy need to be more consistently applied throughout Scotland?
  • Is there is a need for enhanced policy support?
  • A move away from the current spatial framework approach, which overly focuses on lines on maps
  • A more streamlined system, in response to the move to subsidy-free projects, which requires uncertainty and cost to be reduced, with proportionate approaches, eg. more use of non-material variation procedures
  • Are subjective tools such as landscape capacity studies sometimes used to limit the expansion of capacity in a way not intended by the current SPP/NPF3? Should the focus be on landscape sensitivity rather than capacity?
  • How effective is wild land policy? Should there be a move to assessing the impact of a project on the relative wildness of the surrounding area, ie. what is the policy protecting?
  • Should there be a presumption in favour of repowering existing onshore wind farms? And a more streamlined approach, with a basic rather than full assessment?
  • How can planning policy address the rapidity of technological advances, especially increased blade tip heights?
  • The importance of providing work for the supply chain – according to Scottish Development International, Scotland’s renewables and low carbon industry has 2000 supply chain companies employing 200,000 staff

The planning system cannot be all things to all people. It can however be an enabler – of the right development in the right place, of sustainable development, and of established and tangible renewable developments and solutions that will meaningfully contribute to alleviating the climate emergency and achieving decarbonisation targets.

The new statutory purpose of planning, is to manage the development and use of land in the long term public interest. That includes anything which “contributes to sustainable development”. Renewable energy projects therefore fulfil this new statutory purpose, which will underpin the preparation of NPF4.

Way forward

Now is the time for the renewables sector to try and shape planning policy to forge a real, credible path for renewable energy to play its full part in achieving the net zero targets.

(with thanks to Kendra Lennox for her assistance)