Among the measures outlined by the Department for Communities and Local Government that could affect renewable energy developments are:
- Giving people and communities a greater say over there area by a new right to challenge the takeover of services, bid to buy local assets, and to veto excessive council tax rises;
- Restoring local control over local planning by replacing the Infrastructure Planning Commission with a democratically accountable system for major infrastructures. The Bill will put neighbourhood plans as the new building blocks of the planning system where communities have the power to grant planning permission if a local majority is in favour;
- Giving local government a stronger financial stake in the local economy to attract business. Local authorities would be able to grant discretionary business rate discounts and giving a greater voice to local businesses.
These measures could have both a positive and a negative effect on renewable energy developments in the UK. The reform to the planning system, for example, could enable more community renewable energy projects, but it could also go against Government plans of increasing the share of renewable energy in the country’s energy mix.
RenewableUK calls the Localism Bill a ‘gamechanger’ for the renewable energy sector.
Charles Anglin, RenewableUK’s Director of Communications, says: “There is no doubt that this Bill, once it becomes law, will dramatically alter the rules for developing renewable energy projects, and the industry will have to follow suit.
“We could be looking at a radically different planning process, with councillors allowed or even encouraged to campaign ahead of the decision, and the result in some cases being made by referendum. We will need to consult with communities ahead of logging an application and make sure that the economic and community benefits are clear.”
The renewable energy organisation says it is waiting for clarity on the plans to involved neighbourhoods in decision making and how planning at a neighbourhood level will integrate with council procedures.
Anglin adds: “RenewableUK is already working on a set of proposals to ensure that people at the local level see a clear benefit from hosting renewable energy projects. We are looking forward to working with the Government to ensure that renewable energy projects are developed in a responsible, democratic and clearly beneficial way.”
RenewableUK has made the following comments on what it sees as the key points for renewable energy in the Localism Bill:
- Local referendums: Should have an important role to play, but decisions need to be made on the basis of qualified professional advice;
- Predetermination: Councillors should be free to fulfil their democratic role as local representatives, but there has to be a mechanism ensuring there is no conflict of interest, and individual applications must be judged on their own merit;
- Neighbourhood planning: Exciting innovation but questions remain on how neighbourhoods will be defined, what process and funding will be used to adopt the plans and how they will be ratified;
- Pre-application consultations: The renewable energy industry strongly supports the plans and already has an excellent track record in engaging with communities at the pre-planning stage;
- Abolition of regional spatial strategies: The industry accepts the thrust of the localist agenda and is already working with Government to make sure that it helps deliver projects on the ground; we will be looking to propose a mechanism to enable joint working on key infrastructure projects between local councils; and
- The community infrastructure levy: We support measures to retain a proportion of these funds locally and will be looking to extend this principle to the localisation of business rates, when the plans are extended to level of the local neighbourhood.