Finally we have had an announcement from Teresa May that she intends to trigger Article 50 and start formal negotiations for the UK’s exit from the EU by the end of March. We have all felt the uncertainty in the development industry and in the economy as a whole since the referendum decision in June, with the value of the pound taking a dive and much speculation about the future of the economy, environment and society. What is certain is that the UK will need a continuous, secure supply of energy to power the homes it desperately needs and the infrastructure to ensure its continued prosperity in a post-Brexit world.
Crossrail, HS2, Heathrow/Gatwick expansion are all projects requiring large amounts of energy, not to mention one million homes by 2020. We must not also forget the need for sustainable development, not least the global environmental issues of climate change and the increased frequency of extreme weather events that have real economic and social effects and must be taken account of in planning development. Indeed, the new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations for England, which according to DCLG will be published for consultation in the coming weeks, will introduce the requirement to assess climate change effects in EIA, a change that will go on to affect many major projects.
In the last few weeks, we have seen a variety of nuclear, solar and onshore oil and gas projects get given the go-ahead. All, of course, have objectors and supporters arguing each side of the argument and citing the pros and cons of the technologies.
Cuadrilla’s proposals to undertake hydraulic fracturing at its Preston New Road site have been allowed on appeal, giving encouraging signals to the UK onshore oil and gas industry that shale gas exploration can finally get going (read my colleagues blog covering this). If the exploratory phase shows a commercially exploitable resource, this would help to make us more self-sufficient and less at the mercy of international gas markets. However, the decision is against the wishes of the local community, mainly for reasons of local impact, and NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are citing the detrimental climate change effects of burning fossil fuels.
Following negotiations between the UK, Chinese and French governments, Hinckley Point C was finally given the green light at the end of September with the UK signing an £18bn contract for the nuclear new build power station in Somerset. New nuclear has its own supporters and objectors with supporters praising its potential to plug the energy gap between fossil fuels and renewables, which, until they are more affordable (and more projects get through the planning system) cannot meet the country’s energy needs alone. The direct job creation and economic multiplier effect is also another plus, particularly given the uncertain economic climate. The tax payer’s bill for the costly build however, is one of the key points argued by objectors. Again, the environmental NGOs would rather see investment in renewable energy for the long term benefit of the country, particularly given our international commitments at COP21 to tackle climate change.
Finally, renewables, which have struggled to get consent, partly due to NIMBY attitudes, are back on the agenda. We have recently had success with two of our solar farm projects allowed on appeal. Claire Kent and colleagues in our planning and landscape planning teams advised Anesco Ltd on two 5MW solar farms (Carlisle and Nottingham). As well as the environmental benefit from renewable energy generation, other key benefits include rural diversification, landscape and biodiversity enhancements, economic and community benefits. Both Inspectors agreed with our conclusions that the schemes would comprise sustainable development and that the benefits of the proposals would outweigh any harm.
I can understand the different views and concerns about all forms of energy production, but what is clear is that we need a mix of energy to safeguard our continued growth. Importantly we need to make sure that decisions are made with a long term view of the impacts on our communities, economy and our environment; short term gains may lead to long term problems.
Most importantly, we need to make decisions. So many consenting decisions have been delayed and held up in our planning system for months and sometimes years. We need to work with regulators and communities to discuss our energy needs in an open forum, which may alleviate concerns and remove misconceptions about certain technologies. Only through transparent communication and debate will we be able to deliver projects that will power the country in the years to come.
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