Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Countryside Agency

  This submission from the Countryside Agency covers the following points:

    —  the integration of global benefits and local effects of renewable energy developments, so these objectives are given equal status, rather than balanced or traded off in decision making processes;

    —  a win-win approach to renewable energy in decision making processes and in national policy, enabling people to be participants rather than protesters, as we embark upon the long haul challenge to deliver targets for renewable energy;

    —  a sequential approach to planning for renewable energy developments, with an emphasis on targeting non and least sensitive locations, as recommended by the DTI Foresight review of planning and renewables;

    —  support for the Energy Review's conclusions on renewables and planning, such that both regional and local planning guidance indicates locations and conditions for renewable energy, giving more clarity to all stakeholders; and

    —  an explanation of the Community Renewables Initiative, which enables people to take responsibility for their energy management and deliver locally appropriate renewable energy developments.


  1.  The Countryside Agency is the Government's adviser on sustainable development in the countryside. We support the Government's drive on renewable energy. We advise on change and development in the landscape.

  2.  The Countryside Agency has been an active contributor to the Government's Renewable Energy Advisory Committee and we now lead the Community Renewables Initiative, which is explained later in this submission.

  3.  This submission builds upon our previous evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee and concentrates on the issues of sustainable development, planning, stakeholder participation, and the sharing of benefits from renewable energy developments.


  4.  Many debates over development proposals for renewable energy focus on the notion of balancing "global benefits and local effects", and much advice on the topic of renewables and planning recommends this. We believe this is a distraction to clear thinking on the subject. The challenge is to integrate, or combine the two objectives, so both are respected in outcomes from development. This message is at the heart of the Government's Sustainable Development Strategy, which states that different environmental, social and economic objectives must be integrated, rather than having one being achieved at the expense of the others.

  5.  Renewable energy is not exempt from the discipline of integration. Slogans such as "the environmental imperative", and general presumptions in favour of developments which help address climate change objectives can be barriers to progressive thinking on where and how to deliver good quality development.


  6.  It follows from paragraphs four and five that the greenhouse gas reduction benefits of renewable energy, although crucial, should not have primacy in considerations over other objectives. Greenhouse gas reduction benefits should not tempt developers into special pleading, such that they fail to acknowledge other national, regional, or local level policy objectives. We know of cases where large wind turbine schemes are targeted in AONBs, where government bodies and stakeholders are bound to object. We also know of several commercial wind schemes being submitted with no Environmental Statement, meaning that informed stakeholder discussion is not possible. This win-lose culture is not the way to start the long haul progress we all require to deliver the Government's targets. We need win-win approaches which allow all stakeholders to be participants, not protesters.


  7.  We believe in sound science and rigour as the context for government policy making, so we commend the DTI Foresight review of planning and renewable energy, which reported in 2000. Based on sampling a range of wind energy and hydro power planning cases, with a range of outcomes, it concluded that there was no inherent barrier to these technologies in the planning system. To help the delivery of renewable energy developments the Foresight review called for planning policies to set out a sequential approach for renewables, so they concentrate on non-sensitive and least-sensitive sites as a priority. We strongly endorse that message as a key part of the win-win approach required for renewable energy.


  8.  We support the Energy Review's observations on planning for renewables. It calls for clear indications of where and how development should take place, to be signalled in planning guidance, starting at regional level and concluding more precisely at district level. This will enable all stakeholders to debate these conditions with a clear purpose. The results will provide much more certainty to developers, and many less surprises and concerns to other stakeholders. This is an essential part of the win-win approach.


  9.  We recognise that the arguments above are made in the context of the Renewables Obligation, which means there is a lowest price criterion for developments. However, within that lowest price criterion is the reality of delivering developments that will meet planning conditions. This may mean that many development sites are not lowest price in a pure sense, but market conditions need to operate within the reality of what can be delivered on the ground, so they will in fact respond to planning conditions, not dictate them.


  10.  We welcome the Energy Review's emphasis on public participation and education on renewables, and the PIU's earlier renewables report which recommended government investment of at least £10 million towards community and household schemes. We believe that the Community Renewables Initiative, launched by the Countryside Agency in February 2002, can play a major role in implementing these objectives.

  11.  The 2010 and 2020 renewables targets are of necessity, ambitious ones. This will result in a significant amount of development, and there will be many development models through which renewable energy can be conceived, financed, delivered and owned. The Community Renewables Initiative can contribute to the variety of ways in which renewable energy can be delivered, and will have an emphasis on helping to forge community enterprise structures.

  12.  Led by the Countryside Agency, the Community Renewables Initiative involves all relevant government departments, and a range of regional and sub-regional partnerships of bodies (currently 10, covering half of England).

  The partnerships provide advice, support and training on all aspects of renewable energy, across all technologies. They will also harness regeneration and other funds to help make schemes happen.

  13.  Research by consultants ESD and BDOR has indicated that the Community Renewables Initiative could help deliver a tenth of the 2010 target. But just as important is the framework that the Initiative provides to help people take responsibility for energy management and renewables in their own locality, and in turn to familiarise people to renewable energy. The Initiative is to be replicated in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and will be applied to the whole of England by the end of 2004.

  14.  The Community Renewables Initiative is designed to:

    —  help people take responsibility for contributing to renewable energy and energy efficiency measures;

    —  provide livelihoods, skills, and income, especially in the localities hosting developments;

    —  integrate renewable energy and energy efficiency with other regeneration and diversification activities, whether this is in the open countryside, market towns, the urban fringe, or within cities;

    —  provide a framework by which people can shape developments in ways which they are comfortable with;

    —  provide a framework for innovation, so new ideas, a variety of organisations, and new development types can be brought into play; and

    —  provide a way of galvanising people and communities, so that devising renewable energy developments results in associated benefits of community spirit and boosted confidence.

  15.  Within a month of its launch, the potential for innovation can be illustrated by the following sample of proposals which have been put to the Initiative:

    —  many architects and developers asking how to get involved in integrating renewables and energy efficiency in their schemes;

    —  proposals for a programme of renewing dormant small hydro power sites;

    —  proposals for bulk purchase agreements, whereby surplus electricity from small scale developments (such as small wind turbines on farms and on school premises) can be sold on a collective basis; and

    —  a proposal for renovating moribund windpumps previously used for water level management in Norfolk, to change their function to electricity generation.


  16.  Finally, messages in the two PIU reports suggest that public education and familiarisation are fundamental to gaining public acceptance of renewables. That is too simplistic. We would stress that with familiarisation to renewables, people will be better able to distinguish well sited and designed developments from poor quality ones. Putting the onus on public education and on briefing local planning authorities on renewables overlooks the responsibility of the renewables industry to propose developments which are good enough to approve.

March 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 22 July 2002