Energy firms warn UK wind farms, nuclear plants face planning delays

15 July 2009 – New build nuclear plants and wind farms in the United Kingdom risk being held up by planning delays, energy companies have warned.

The warning came after the government confirmed that national policy statements setting out the need for such investments would not be published until the autumn, reported the Financial Times.

Ed Miliband, energy and climate change secretary, will today (Wednesday) set out his plans for cutting Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions and his strategy for encouraging the growth of renewable energy, but energy companies warned that his plans were threatened by obstructions in the planning process.

National policy statements, in which the government will set out the country’s need for new energy infrastructure, are being prepared for nuclear power, renewable energy, electricity networks, fossil-fuel generation and oil and gas pipelines and storage.

These statements are intended to guide both the new Infrastructure Planning Commission, the independent body that will decide on strategic projects of national importance from October, and local planning authorities.

They are seen as vital for removing some of the barriers that have delayed important projects such as the London Array, intended to be the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, which was held up by a local planning authority.

John Healey, the minister for housing and planning, said on Tuesday the statements would be published in the autumn, after which they would be subject to consultation and parliamentary scrutiny.

The CBI employers’ body said it was disappointed at the delay.

“Businesses have been crying out for government to set a planning policy framework that would encourage new investment into the UK’s ageing infrastructure,” said Neil Bentley, the CBI’s director of business environment. “We have no time to lose.”

The government said it had long planned to publish the policy statements in the autumn but energy companies said they were still concerned about the wait.

One said: “The low-carbon strategy doesn’t exist without a planning regime to make it happen.”

One industry source suggested that fear of judicial review meant the government was taking extra efforts to make sure the 3500-page statements were legally watertight.

Vestas, the wind turbine manufacturer, in April blamed problems with the planning system when it announced the closure its factory on the Isle of Wight, with the loss of 600 jobs.

The difficulty of gaining planning permission for onshore wind farms is one of the biggest factors holding back the growth of renewable energy.

Although the UK boasts the best sites for wind farms in Europe, and the most generous subsidies to developers, it still lags behind most other EU member states.

Opposition to onshore wind farms, and the ease with which they can be blocked by small dissenting groups, have pushed developers to look at offshore wind projects, even though they are three times more expensive.

Ditlev Engel, chief executive of Vestas, described Britain as “probably one of the most difficult places in the world to get permission” for wind projects.

Facilities that generate energy from waste also suffer from planning delays and obstructions.

Gev Eduljee of Sita, the waste company, said: “Gaining planning permission for energy-from-waste plants is a very slow and laborious process.”