Planning system needs change of tack

Uncertainty over gaining planning permission for renewable energy projects remained a key complaint for farmers at last week’s On-Farm Energy Generation Conference at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire.

Many farmers felt they faced a “brick wall”, but Robert Shaw, director of sustainability at independent design business LDA Design, offered advice on how to get a scheme through the system.

He said a change of approach was required, especially with the government’s proposed Localism Bill.

“We have found the traditional approach is for a scheme to be designed up front and then pushed into the planning system with little engagement with people and understanding of the context,” said Mr Shaw.

While schemes will still get built this way, they are often reduced in size or relocated, resulting in a compromised project.

To avoid this, farmers and developers needed to get smarter in how they worked the planning system, he said.

“Our approach is to take the context which planning needs to account for; the political, environmental, community circumstances, and look at that up front with a client. These are the issues you’re going to need to address, let’s design it with them in mind and make the ‘brick wall’ smaller.”

This “contextual-led planning” could mean common hurdles, such as local community objection, a lack of urgency in the planning process and the political nature of some development decisions would be avoided.

Mr Shaw also said changes in planning policy could bring a welcome resource to farmers in the shape of “energy maps”.

The draft National Planning Policy Framework includes a requirement for local authorities to identify where their energy opportunities are. These maps will show the physical feasibility of different types of technology in the local area and will give farmers an inside track into what will work well on their land, he said.

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