Energy Bill [HL] - Commons Amendments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 12th April 2016.

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Photo of The Earl of Lindsay The Earl of Lindsay Conservative 6:45 pm, 12th April 2016

My Lords, I support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. In particular, I want to speak to Amendments 7AA and 7AM in the name of the noble and learned Lord.

As the noble and learned Lord said, there are two important realities that these amendments seek to address. The first is that planning regulations in Scotland, unlike in England, require a set period of pre-engagement. This means that the submission of a major planning application can take place only once a statutory three or more months of consultation have taken place. In Scotland, therefore, between three and six months is added to the equivalent statutory period that applies in England. In effect, the lodging of this proposal of application notice in Scotland is at exactly the same point in the process as the lodging of a planning application in England. In other words, it is the start of the formal planning process either side of the border.

The second reality that the noble and learned Lord’s amendment seeks to address is that projects involving community equity are inherently disadvantaged alongside established developers in terms of the speed with which they can develop their projects, the level of finance that they have available, the time it takes them to get the requisite level of finance and the relative risks they take in getting a project to a particular stage by a particular date. Securing the initial funding for a community stake takes valuable time before the actual planning process can even be initiated.

As a result of these two realities, the Scottish planning regulations and the challenges facing community projects, this Bill would lead to the following scenario. A community-based project could be stopped dead in its tracks despite a significant investment involving a community shareholding having been committed well before 18 June, despite that project having been firmly and formally within the Scottish planning process since well before 18 June and despite all other grace period criteria having been met. Such a scenario would be a regrettable and, I believe, unintended consequence, especially given the importance that the Government attach to the involvement of local communities in, and their support for, onshore renewable projects. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said, that aspiration was expressed in the Conservative manifesto.

On the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, at the same time as such a community project would be stopped dead in its tracks, other cases that were refused planning permission before 18 June by the local planning authority—in other words, they did not have local support—but were subsequently granted on appeal would be able to accredit under the grace periods, while a genuinely community project which is fully committed by 18 June, with full local support and equity ownership, would not. The noble Baroness has therefore raised a very serious concern.

Such a scenario would be addressed by Amendments 7AA and 7AM in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. They would ensure that community projects that had committed significant financial resources, that had been in the formal planning process well before 18 June and that now had permission and accorded with all the other grace period requirements were given a reasonable grace period to deliver.

Like other Members of this House, I have been grateful to the Minister for his willingness to correspond and engage on the issues relating to this Bill, and I am grateful for the correspondence that I have had with him about the issues behind the amendments. I want to reassure him on two concerns that he raised with me. The first was a concern that, in accepting these amendments, there would be significant additional deployment. This is not the case. Research through RenewableUK data demonstrates that the amendment would lead to an additional deployment of only 45 megawatts, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, said. That is less than 0.1%—that is, 1/10th of 1%—of the current annual ROC spend.

My noble friend the Minister also expressed the view that the amendments run counter to policy intent. I can reassure him that they do not. They are about improving in a very precise and limited way the flexibility in how the Bill would apply, especially in Scotland. The amendments are modest in their intent and negligible in their cost and therefore in their impact on the ROC budget, yet, as we have heard from other noble Lords and especially the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, they would deliver significant local benefits.

I hope that the House and especially my noble friend the Minister will support the amendments or at least consider them constructively. They deal with the very lengthy pre-application consultation requirements in the Scottish planning system and with the challenges that community projects face. I will listen carefully to my noble friend’s response, and hope it is a positive one.