Local authority planning logjam ‘threatens net-zero commitments’

Scotland’s 32 local authorities are facing a planning logjam which will jeopardise the country’s climate targets, new research by industry body Scottish Renewables reveals today.

Local authority planning logjam ‘threatens net-zero commitments’

The study has found the number of planners employed by councils in Scotland has fallen by 20% since 2011 - but the number of applications they will have to grant must increase if Scotland is to stay on track to net-zero emissions by 2045.

The UK must quadruple the amount of renewable electricity deployed by 2050 in order to meet its climate change targets. Scotland’s planning system determines how renewable energy technology can be built, so is critical to meeting that target.

Scottish Renewables chief executive Claire Mack has described the situation revealed in the analysis as “a hidden obstacle to net-zero”.

She said: “It is quite clear from this research that Scotland’s local authorities do not have the capacity to deal with the large number of planning consents which will be required as we shift our energy system to one based on renewable generation.

“The Scottish Government’s declaration of a climate emergency and our stretching 2045 net-zero target mean we have no choice but to act. Scotland needs reliable, low-cost and sustainable energy and an independent, robust and well-resourced planning system is at the heart of delivering the projects which can provide that.

“Scottish Renewables and its members have raised the issue of local authority resourcing on many occasions. This new research throws into stark relief a hidden obstacle to net-zero and shows now is the time to commit to positive reform.”

The research which is published today found that the number of planning department staff employed across the Scottish local authorities which provided information fell by 20%, from 1,515 in 2011 to 1,216 in 2020.

In the past ten years, Scotland’s renewable energy capacity has grown from 2.8GW to 11.6GW, with 417 planning applications granted from the 800 submitted solely for generation technologies like wind and solar farms, hydropower projects and more during that ten-year period.

To meet the Climate Change Committee’s most ambitious ‘speculative’ scenario, Scotland must install 134GW of renewable electricity generation to meet net-zero by 2045.

The Scottish Government’s 2020-21 Programme for Government detailed how its 4th National Planning Framework will be “aimed at radically accelerating emissions reduction” – but those reforms are now delayed until late 2021.

In its manifesto for 2021’s Scottish Parliament election, Scottish Renewables calls on the next Scottish Government to introduce a low-carbon assessment into the planning process. Assessments should recognise net-zero as a material consideration, with renewable energy always viewed as sustainable development that supports our national interest.

Claire Mack added: “The scale of the challenge facing Scotland’s energy system is undeniable.

“The renewable energy industry is already delivering almost 18,000 jobs and investing billions of pounds every year in Scotland. The opportunity to do much more as we transition to net-zero is clear, but without wind and solar farms, hydro schemes, district heating networks and the electricity transmission infrastructure that goes alongside them Scotland simply will not be able to reap the economic and environmental benefits of that energy transition.

“Local authority planning departments are on the front line of delivering those projects and we urge ministers to fund local authorities appropriately to allow them to deliver net-zero.

“The Scottish Government has shown in its Programme for Government that it is committed to reforming the planning system to deliver that ambitious target. The speed of the transition which we must undertake if we are to do so is unprecedented and ministers must now take account of the need for the planning system, at all levels, to deliver consents for renewable energy schemes faster and in greater volumes than ever before.”

Scottish Renewables’ manifesto for next year’s Scottish Parliament elections, published at the start of this month, sets out the opportunity provided by a better-resourced planning system, as well as the challenges posed by the current situation.

It said: “Currently planning decisions can take years, with outdated policies requiring renewable energy schemes to prove that they are needed. The climate emergency means that there is no longer any question that we need more renewable energy developments, and a well-resourced planning system which can deliver a proportionate and timely consenting process is key to the delivery of net-zero.”

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