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Proposed change to Scottish planning policy branded ‘retrograde step’ by leading renewables body

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Scottish Government proposals to remove support for sustainable developments from planning policy has been branded a “retrograde step” by a leading industry body.

Scottish Renewables claims the move will make it more difficult for future onshore wind developments to gain approval and will negatively impact the country’s efforts to combat climate change.

Under the proposed change the presumption in favour of “development that contributes to sustainable development” would be removed from Scottish Planning Policy.

The alteration, which was announced in July, is currently the subject of a consultation which closes on October 9.

The Scottish Government said the change is required to “overcome current conflict in the system” and “actively address the lengthy technical debates” around how many homes will be needed in the future

But Scottish Renewables is arguing that will be at the expense of onshore wind and hydroelectric developments.

There are also fears it will negatively impact on the onshore elements of offshore wind farms like cable laying and substations.

The rule was incorporated into planning policy in 2014 with the intention of supporting “economically, environmentally and socially sustainable places”, such as developments which use and store green energy.

Morag Watson, director of policy at Scottish Renewables, said: “Tackling the climate emergency means making the best use of Scotland’s natural resources to generate the energy we need to power our lives sustainably.

“The presumption in favour of sustainable development meant the benefits of renewable energy projects should be accorded proper weight when applications for new projects were being considered by planners.

“Scotland’s planning process is one of the most robust in the world, and the renewable energy industry is committed to working with that process, in partnership with government and communities, to ensure that the climate emergency and our net-zero commitments are central to planning decisions.

“Removing the presumption in favour of sustainable development is a retrograde step for Scotland, and the renewable energy industry in particular. It flies in the face of the Government’s commitment to tackle climate change and the positive policy announcements in yesterday’s (Sept 1) Programme for Government and will present serious issues to the development of the energy projects which we need to provide clean power, transport and heat as we progress towards a 2045 net-zero target.”

There are also concerns that the proposed changes will negatively impact on projects which are either already in, or soon to enter, the planning process.

However, Dr John Constable, director of UK charity Renewable Energy Foundation, has welcomed the move arguing it is “good environmentalism”.

He said: “This revision is the first step in correcting an unreasonable prejudice in the Scottish planning system. Many so-called “sustainable” projects are also large industrial developments and consequently have negative environmental impacts, but the old policy guidance made it difficult for local authorities and other decision makers to give proper weight to those harms in the planning balance.

“Some industries, the wind industry for example, won’t like it, but the change to planning guidance is in the public interest and also good environmentalism. A “green” badge on a development should not be a passport to planning consent.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are strongly committed to supporting the delivery of good quality development, including renewable energy projects which will play a critical role in achieving our world leading climate change targets. This consultation does not change that commitment.

“Ahead of National Planning Framework 4, we are consulting on proposed interim changes to the existing Scottish Planning Policy to clarify specific policies that relate to planning for housing so that our existing policy is clearer and can be more easily applied in practice.

“No decisions have been made. The consultation is currently open and our existing policies remain in place. All stakeholders, including industry representatives, are strongly encouraged to respond in writing by the close of the consultation on 9 October.”

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