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National Policy Statement Review – Third time’s a charm?

Renewables Wind Farm
Energy, Transport & Infrastructure
Green & Good (ESG and Impact)
local elections

As part of last week’s Green Day announcements, the government attempted to refocus its transition action plan and signal to industry that the UK renewables sector is open to business. Packaged within the 44 documents released was the government’s long-awaited response to the 2021 National Policy Statement (NPS) consultation – the planning policy that will underpin how the private sector will deliver on the government’s ambitions to boost renewable energy generation. 

Now in its third iteration, the Draft Revised NPSs (EN-1 and EN-3) provide developers and planners with some clarity on the government’s thinking around key planning issues. However, in its rush to make a big bang announcement, some opportunities may have been missed. 

As we wait for the third round of consultation to be finalised and the final version of the NPSs to be released, let’s take a look at what the latest ‘revised drafts’ mean for the solar and wind sectors. 

Positively, offshore wind projects have been elevated to Critical National Priority (CNP) Infrastructure in England and Wales. CNP infrastructure status will afford these projects with a presumption that most environmental impacts are unlikely to outweigh the urgent need for offshore wind. In stark contrast, there is no guidance included on onshore wind. However, we can expect more announcements later in the year, once the government’s 2022 consultation on proposed changes to onshore wind planning policy is complete. 

The most recent iteration of NPS EN-3 includes a new standalone section on solar, which simplifies the planning process for developers and clarifies some longstanding points of contention, such as site selection considerations and the importance of a grid connection, and guidance on glint and glare. Importantly, the NPS reaffirms the government’s position on ‘best and most versatile’ agricultural land – reducing the risk of a Truss-esque de facto ban on the sector, which was a point of anxiety for the industry during her time as Prime Minister.  

The clarity provided on these commonly raised issues is welcome and is expected to reduce unnecessary back-and-forth during the examination process. However, there is still an opportunity for the government to address additional issues frequently debated during examination, such as the assessment of project benefits. 

Generally, the government has effectively articulated the national benefits of renewables from an energy perspective. However, the latest NPS’s don’t effectively articulate the benefits of these projects at a local and regional level (e.g. economic benefits), and the potential for these to be cumulative.  

The NPSs lack strong guidance on community benefits. The fact that it is not a material consideration will continue to make it hard for developers to provide a meaningful benefits package as part of their proposals. government is clearly aware that this is an issue, as it’s consulting on it for electricity networks – why not renewables? These are the issues that communities (and their representatives) are raising when renewable projects are brought forward – and are part of the groundswell which is pushing Conservative backbenchers to be more vocal. 

Addressing these issues is becoming increasingly crucial as more solar NSIPs are brought forward. Both industry and local communities will be closely watching how the Planning Inspectorate assess the needs case and cumulative impact of these projects, and without robust guidance, developers and communities continue to operate in the dark. 

Encouragingly, the third round of consultation on the NPSs provides an opportunity to seek further clarification from government on these points. It will be important that industry participates in this latest consultation process in order to further refine the NSPs published last week, and ensure government policy continues to reflect the situation on the ground. 

If you need support in responding to any of the consultations announced by the government on ‘Green Day’, SEC Newgate’s Local Advocacy team can provide expert support.