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Independence: What Would It Mean For Renewables?

Independence: What Would It Mean For Renewables?

Craig Whelton

It is now less than one week until All Energy in Aberdeen and with key note addresses from both Scottish and UK Ministers, the independence debate will no doubt dominate discussion.

For those involved in the consenting of renewables projects, the differences between the planning systems in Scotland and the rest of the UK are already well pronounced and look to be increasing.

Devolution and the Planning (Scotland) Act 2006 introduced significant variations between the Scottish and English planning systems. Since 2010 the speed of change has increased with the UK coalition Government embarking upon a series of radical reforms to the English (and lesser extent Welsh) planning system.  Initiatives such as the NPPF, Neighbourhood Planning and a new consenting process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects are ones which have no direct equivalent in the Scottish system.  Whereas Scotland has retained regional Development Plans, this concept was branded “Stalinist” by Eric Pickles and abolished in England in 2011.

Whilst the UK coalition Government’s reforms have been broadly welcomed by the development industry in general, that is not shared by many in the renewables industry, and onshore wind in particular where there are real concerns that planning policy is being undermined for political gain.

In recent months the coalition Government has also demonstrated a willingness to get involved directly in planning decisions.  Last month Eric Pickles announced he would continue to call in onshore wind farm appeals to ensure Government policy was being properly applied. Since introducing this measure 6 months ago, the Minister has approved 2 onshore schemes, refused 8 (including 2 against his Inspector’s recommendation of approval) and is yet to determine a further 20.  Added to this is the Conservatives’ announcement that they would transfer responsibility for determining large scale onshore wind applications to local authorities, currently they are decided by the Secretary of State.

Scottish Ministers have responsibility for determining onshore applications of 50MW and above.  Last year they confirmed that approval rates for these schemes stood at around 80%.  However, the Scottish system is not without its detractors, with decision turnaround times often cited as an issue.

The implications of independence are myriad and difficult to predict, but it is clear that irrespective of the outcome of the vote on 18 September, the planning systems in Scotland and the rest of the UK look set to continue on different paths.

Burness Paull will once again be exhibiting (this year within the AREG exhibition space, Stand AB3), and members of our consenting team will be there – please feel free to drop by for a chat.

Craig Whelton