The Planning and Climate Change Coalition has published the first sector-led environmental planning guidance since the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) took effect last month.

Planning for climate change – guidance for local authorities has been published to allow local authorities, private sector practitioners, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Local Nature Partnerships to both tackle climate change and spur positive economic growth through solutions such as renewable energy, sustainable transport can bring.   

Hugh Ellis, Chief Planner for the Planning and Climate Change Coalition, said: “With the radical shift in power to the local level, councils and communities will have both the responsibility and the opportunity to deal with climate change. We hope that by choosing to adopt this guidance local authorities cannot only improve the resilience of their communities, but seize the opportunities it provides for economic growth, for example through decentralised energy projects.”

Naomi Luhde-Thompson, Planning Campaigner at Friends of the Earth said: “The new planning system needs to help our nation develop clean home-grown sources of power from the wind, sun and water and wean ourselves off increasingly expensive fossil fuels.”

The REA is concerned that the NPPF requires local authorities to identify “suitable areas” for renewable energy deployment (Paragraph 97). Although identifying broad areas of search can be helpful in principle, in practice it can easily become an attempt to restrict deployment to an overly-confined area. Furthermore, opportunity mapping has very limited relevance for most renewable energy technologies and a requirement to map is likely to delay deployment and restrict the development of perfectly acceptable locations. As the REA has long argued, it is far preferable for local plans to establish clear criteria-based policies. Once these are in place, renewable energy developers are in the best position to determine the location of projects within the context of the plan and can engage in constructive pre-application dialogue with the planning authorities to review proposed locations.

Translating the National Planning Policy Framework into practical development plans and planning decisions will not be without its challenges. REA Chief Executive Gaynor Hartnell comments: “Local authorities have a key role in facilitating the UK meeting its challenging and legally binding renewables target. By 2020 we need to increase renewable energy penetration from today’s level of 3 percent up to 15 percent. We urge planning authorities to make sure their development plans contain robust policies to assist with this. There can be no better example of sustainable growth than the deployment of renewables in sympathy with the local environment.

Hartnell expressed some concerns about the NPPF requirement for local authorities to identify “suitable areas” for renewable energy deployment: “The NPPF also requires local authorities to identify “suitable areas” for renewable energy deployment. We are not convinced that a mapping approach is helpful for all technologies, although it could well demonstrate the opportunities for deep geothermal and larger scale PV. It can certainly also help with strategic planning to meet industrial heat demand. We will be happy to advise local authorities on how they might approach resource mapping”.

The guidance has been developed to reflect the Localism Act and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) through cross-sector dialogue, using the wide-ranging expertise of the Planning and Climate Change Coalition.