Yesterday the Government unveiled new renewable energy planning guidelines to assist local communities and authorities in weighing up the need for renewable energy projects against other environmental concerns. It is hoped that this will give more balance to communities who share doubts and concerns over the impact renewable technologies may have on their towns and cities - both in terms of budget and direction of funds and the aesthetic and logistical impact on their homes.
The department for Communities and Local Government issued the new guidelines which strive to emphasise that the move toward renewable energy “does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities”. The guidelines will assist those in charge of making decisions in understanding the National Planning Policy Framework which was brought in to drive the development of renewable energy to meet national targets. The UK is currently hoping that 15 per cent of its energy comes from renewable sources by 2020.
Baroness Hanham, Communities Minister had this to say of the new planning guidelines: “Our new planning practice guidance will help decisions on green energy get the environmental balance right in line with the framework. Meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location.”
RenewableUK have welcomed the planning guidelines citing the suggestion of balance across a range of environmental factors as concerns as a notable plus point when considering the implementation of renewable energy schemes. Maf Smith, RenewableUK chief said, “Following a long debate about onshore wind costs and benefits, we trust that this period of uncertainty for the industry is now at an end, and that we will see planning policy and guidance producing robust, objective planning decisions.” As people are becoming more conscious of their energy bills in the wake of rising gas prices they are turning to other methods of home heating and energy generation in their homes and communities. This will surely become a point of contention in coming years and the Government needs to adequately prepare, but are these planning guidelines enough?
In many ways the new guidelines will help developers and communities alike, offering structure and planning to the former and respecting the need for balance across the latter. There is still some concern, however, over the distribution of power and where the guideline instructions are aimed - the guidelines are aimed at developers while local councils are left to make their own decisions. Friends of the Earth’s planning campaigner Naomi Luhde-Thompson dismissed the guidelines, indicating that not enough was being done to encourage local councils to take steps towards renewable energy solutions and this this document will only serve to take the pressure of them, allowing them to share the UK’s target ‘burden’ with developers. She said, “It’s staggering that the minister has refused to insist on councils playing their part in developing renewable energy goals - unless everyone takes urgent action, the UK will fail to meet its targets for slashing emissions.”