Winds of Change: The Planning Response to Renewable Energy in Scotland

By Kerr, Sandy | The Town Planning Review, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Winds of Change: The Planning Response to Renewable Energy in Scotland


Kerr, Sandy, The Town Planning Review


This paper presents the results of a survey of local authority planners involved in determining renewable energy applications and local planning policy in Scotland. The questionnaire was used to identify the key challenges that renewable energy presents for the planning profession. Visual and landscape impact, together with nature conservation conflicts, are identified as key areas of difficulty. The paper describes the emerging renewable energy sector in Scotland, and investigates the response of the planning system to this new form of development. The UK government's market-driven approach to the electricity sector and its influence on the way renewables may develop is explored. Some common physical characteristics of technologies for exploiting diffuse sources of renewable energy are highlighted, together with the consequences for planning and development control. Important differences in the strategic approach to renewable energy development onshore and in the marine environment are identified. This paper reveals an emerging conflict between national policy on the one hand and regional planning concerns on the other.

Renewable energy is a new form of industrial development, now appearing in many of the remotest parts of the UK. It is poised to bring change to many parts of rural Britain on a scale that is unprecedented in recent years. The pace of change is dramatic in Scotland, where there is a wealth of resources in the form of wind, hydro, wave and tidal energy. The UK government has sought to stimulate the development of renewables through market-based instruments - in particular Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs). In Scotland this has resulted in major investment in proven technology, particularly onshore wind energy. The marine environment offers a potentially larger resource, but the technology to exploit it is still being developed and is still uneconomic compared to onshore wind. This paper will focus on the situation in Scotland, and how the planning regime is responding to this change. Answers are sought to three specific questions:

* how is the Scottish planning system responding to pressure for renewable energy development?

* what aspects of renewable energy are proving most challenging to planners?

* what drivers have influenced the pattern of renewable energy development now emerging in Scotland?

The first two questions have been addressed by means of primary research in the form of a questionnaire survey of planning officials active in the sector. The results of this questionnaire are presented before being discussed in the wider context of the policy and technology drivers of development. The difference in approach between planning renewable energy development on land and the emerging regime in the marine estate is also considered.

Local authority questionnaire survey

During the course of October 2005, a questionnaire was circulated to the planning departments of all 32 Scottish local authorities. The survey asked a series of questions about how the planning system is responding to renewable energy development.

Initial contact was made via email to senior planners identified in the RTPI Planning Directory. All failures to respond resulted in follow-up phone calls; completed questionnaires were received from 28 officials in 27 authorities (two responses were received from different officials in one authority). The survey targeted planning professionals actively involved in the development of renewable energy policy or the assessment of planning applications. The survey was intended to represent views from across the country. The responses are not the official views of the local authorities. However, the results do represent the informed opinions of professional planners. Several respondents had discussed the questionnaire with planning colleagues.

Apart from one question, which asked respondents to rank specific issues, there was a deliberate attempt to encourage open-ended comment, rather than steering respondents in particular directions by Offering' answers. …

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