What can you do?
If you are reading this then there is a good chance that you already hold the view that renewable energies are a positive way of producing energy in the U.K. This piece isn’t trying to convince you of the benefits of renewable energy but instead will provide a brief overview of how an application is decided and outline how you can get involved in supporting a project.
How it all Works
The planning system is both a renewable energy scheme’s best friend and worst enemy. The national planning policy framework (NPPF) and the National Policy Statement on Energy are (as the name suggests) national guidance on determining planning applications. This guidance will apply to all applications made for a renewable energy scheme in the U.K. There are then a further set of policies that will have to be taken into consideration by the planning officer. These are local policies and will all have local specific guidance on the allocation of sites for renewable energies. This can be as specific as allocating an area of land for a renewable energy or more generally, providing a set of criteria for a project that is in line with the town or cities ‘vision for the future’.
This is called the Local Plan and the Government requires every town and city to have one. It is generally very easy to find on your council or local authorities website under the Town Planning page. There is a link to the Sheffield City Council local plan here; https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/planning-and-city-development/planning-documents/sdf.html. There are also a number of supporting documents which will influence a decision. The most relevant of these being the Climate Change and Design SPD and Practice Guide. Sheffield City Council has an adopted policy on renewable energy and carbon reduction in the Core Strategy, policy CS65. This is the policy that would be used in the determination of planning applications for renewable energy, supported by the SPD where relevant.
So how do I get involved?
The Local Plan is the first stage at which YOU can start to influence future decisions on renewable energy projects. The formal representations in May/June 2013 act as the final stage of mandatory public consultation on the Local Plan for Sheffield. This link https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/planning-and-city-development/planning-documents/sdf/consultation.html will take you to the page where all information on the public consultation is held. A consultation is imminent so information on how to get involved will go up here soon.
To focus on a more specific project then, this is where an individual can really make a difference with an application. Firstly, if you plan to install wind turbine or solar panels on your own home then there is a high chance that you won’t even need planning permission as part of the Permitted Development; the same rule that means you can build a small conservatory etc. See extra information from the council at the bottom of this blog for where planning permission is not required for small-scale renewables.
If the project is a little larger than this, then you will need permission from your local planning authority and if it is a huge scheme then it will be of national infrastructure concern but the best place to find out how your project will be decided is your local planning authority. They will give you the guidance on what will affect the project you are supporting.
So assuming you are in support of a planning application for a wind farm, solar farm, hydroelectric plant etc. etc. then you can write to the planning officer dealing with the application advising them what it is you support about the project and why you think it should go ahead.
There are certain aspects of the application that will have particular influence on the final decision of a project. As discussed earlier this starts with the NPPF which serves as very general guidance on a project. A project is then assessed using the Local Plan and all its supporting documents.
This is the criteria you can use to really draw attention to the merits of an application. It is also the opportunity to highlight aspects of a project that you don’t think are good and suggest alternatives.
ANYONE can comment on an application, all you need is access to the internet or phone to find the relevant references for an application. You can either look online where it is a very straightforward to comment as an email address will be provided with the application for the planning officer in charge where you can email directly. Or, if you don’t have access to the internet, you can go into your local planning office and ask for the name to write to directly or phone the planning office for the planning officer’s name.
The consultation period on applications is only normally open for 21 days and you should get your letter of support or appeal in within this time. You do not have to be from the council area to comment on an application so, if you are from Sheffield and want to write a letter of support for a proposed development in Essex or anywhere else in the UK, you can.
Why you should show your support
Even when a renewable energy scheme is very economically viable and there is an obvious social benefit many schemes will still be refused as these can only proceed with the support of the public and planning authorities. It may seem obvious to you that a scheme is beneficial and that the planning officer should approve it but there are many factors that influence a decision and it is up to you to highlight the positive elements of a scheme.
If you are a more outgoing person then you can promote a renewable project more vocally in your community. Rallying to promote a scheme and inform public opinion on the pros of a project can play a huge role in success of a project. Decision makers like MPs, Planners and Councillors will take note of community support and this can have a great impact on a scheme.
Friends of the earth have produced a more in depth report on how to get involved
There is also a planning Charity Called Planning Aid which provides professional advice on the planning system if you need more information on how to have your say on a Renewable Energy Project.
The Planning Portal is another good website for information on the planning system and what you can do.
Blog written by Michael Bamford
Addition from Sheffield City Council
As well as the Climate Change and Design SPD which is mentioned, Sheffield Council has an adopted policy on renewable energy and carbon reduction in our Core Strategy, policy CS65 http://sheffield-consult.limehouse.co.uk/portal/sdfcs/core_strategy/core_strategy?pointId=1233053235961#section-1233053235961 . This is the policy that would be used in the determination of planning applications for renewable energy, supported by the SPD where relevant. As noted, we are about to consult on our City Policies and Sites document, but this does not contain any further policies on renewable energy, as a policy has already been adopted. Also, this link https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/planning-and-city-development/whats-new/changepd.html  explains where planning permission is not required for small-scale renewables.