Out-Law News | 23 Sep 2022 | 4:14 pm | 3 min. read
Gareth Phillips of Pinsent Masons was commenting after chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng outlined a ‘growth plan’ in which the plans to support onshore wind development were contained. In a document accompanying the chancellor’s statement to parliament, the Treasury said it is the government’s intention to update onshore wind planning policy (42-page / 1.38MB PDF) so that it aligns with planning policy for other infrastructure. This, it said, would make it easier for onshore wind development to take place in England.
The announcement marks a shift in government policy. As recently as April, in its energy security strategy, the government said that while it saw a role for onshore wind generation in the UK’s energy mix, it had decided against “wholesale changes to current planning regulations” in England to support its development.
“This technology was effectively prohibited by planning reform in 2015,” Phillips said. “Since then, the Committee for Climate Change, the National Infrastructure Commission and the government’s energy white paper in 2020 called for the reinstatement of onshore wind to the mix of low carbon generation in England, to facilitate security and diversity of supply, and help meet ‘net zero’.”
“In January this year members of the National Infrastructure Planning Association (NIPA) appeared before the Committee for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy in relation to that Committee’s review of the draft national policy statements for energy, published in September 2021. Onshore wind was omitted from those policy statements and NIPA directed the Committee to the overwhelming evidence in favour of that technology,” he said.
“The Committee agreed with NIPA and included onshore wind in its recommendations to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. However, to date the government has not responded to that recommendation, nor has onshore wind appeared in emerging policy. Therefore, today’s announcement is a welcome surprise and an improvement to the prospects of meeting decarbonisation targets. To realise this, it is likely that effective consultation with local communities and community benefits will continue to have an important role in securing planning permission,” Phillips said.
Today’s announcement is a welcome surprise and an improvement to the prospects of meeting decarbonisation targets
Kwarteng’s growth plan also set ambitious targets for bolstering the UK’s offshore wind generation capacity.
The chancellor wants to see the “vast majority” of consented, planning and pre-lease stage offshore wind projects start construction by the end of 2023. All remaining UK Round 3, Round 4, Extension, ScotWind, INTOG, floating wind commercialisation projects and Celtic Sea projects are to be “accelerated” too.
According to the plan, this is to be achieved by minimising the burden of environmental assessments; making consultation requirements more proportionate; reforming habitats and species regulation; and increasing flexibility to make changes to a Development Consent Order once it has been submitted.
Phillips said: “Whilst on its face this is very positive for the offshore wind industry and the prospects of meeting net zero, to move all consented projects to construction stage in 18 months would be a phenomenal and unprecedented achievement. To include development stage, or ‘pre-planning’ projects in that ambition borders on the fanciful.”
“It may be that the chancellor envisages a North Sea investment zone, with automatic development rights and the lightest of touch environmental impact assessments. More likely, if an appropriate balance between realising the UK’s offshore wind potential and continuing to protect the environment is to be struck, a more realistic programme for planning and environmental reform, and commissioning offshore wind projects, is required. Otherwise, any momentum gained at consent stage may be undermined by delay to construction caused by legal challenges,” he said.
While Kwarteng’s growth plan was explicit about its aims for onshore and offshore wind production, there was no similar reference to solar technology. Phillips said, however, that there are reasons for developers to be optimistic about the prospect of delivering solar farms under the Liz Truss government.
Phillips said: “In the context of remarks made in the Conservative leadership hustings, which created doubt over the future inclusion of solar in the UK’s energy mix, the plan has done little to offer reassurance. This may be misleading though as little, if any, reform beyond that proposed in the emerging national policy statements is required to support the deployment of solar technology. Indeed, ‘no change’ in the growth plan could be interpreted as good news.”
“Unlike with onshore wind, the law doesn’t need to be changed for solar and the government was already promoting solar through revised national policy statements, published in September 2021,” he said.
“More reassurance can be found in the energy price guarantee announced by Liz Truss shortly after taking office. That included the objective ‘drive forward the acceleration of new sources of energy supply from North Sea oil and gas to clean energy like nuclear, wind and solar’. That policy document was the first opportunity to reduce support for solar, but instead it was included. Updates to the September 2021 draft national policy statements will be consulted upon this autumn and there’s been no suggestion of change in respect of solar,” Phillips said.
23 Sep 2022
23 Sep 2022