53. Decisions on planning applications should be made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Relevant and up-to-date development plans, which contain positive policies on renewable energy developments, are therefore important for enabling effective and consistent handling of planning applications. This SPP will also be an important material consideration, particularly where there is no up-to-date development plan policies in place.
54. An efficient, reliable and consistent planning application process can help promote developer and community confidence in the planning system. Pre-application discussions are strongly recommended and the intention should be for planning authorities to be explicit in setting out what information and supporting documentation should be included in a planning application. Under Planning Bill proposals, and in order to build consensus early, some applicants will be required to undertake pre-application consultation with local communities and submit a report of consultation alongside the planning application. These are considered to be appropriate for major developments; proposals for developments that require an Environmental Impact Assessment; and proposals for developments defined as large scale "Bad Neighbour" developments which represent a significant departure from the development plan. Developers and communities can then consider issues where it is desirable to make changes. The appropriateness of consultation would be assessed by the planning authority and, if appropriate, the Scottish Executive Inquiry Reporters Unit.
55. Environmental Impact Assessments will be required for projects where the development falls into a category within the scope of the Environmental Impact Assessment (Scotland) Regulations 1999. Further guidance is set out in SEDD Circular 15/1999. Proposals that fall to be authorised under sections 36 & 37 of the Electricity Act 1989, will be considered under the Electricity Works (Assessment of Environmental Effects) (Scotland) Regulations 2000.
56. Close public involvement at the pre-application and EIA stage is recommended since affected communities may have local knowledge of the issues that may subsequently need to be addressed and will wish to be consulted on project proposals and be kept appraised on progress with the application. This should also ensure a better public understanding of the likely environmental effects of the project and how these will be mitigated. Developers in partnership with statutory consultees and determining authorities should allow sufficient time for the preparation and submission of an Environmental Statement, particularly if more complex or seasonal issues are likely to be raised. Planning authorities and statutory consultees should also recognise their key role in this process by providing timely, appropriate and considered scoping information.
57. Planning authorities should ensure that, where relevant, applicants adequately consider the cumulative impact that their proposal would have on the area. This will apply primarily to larger scale developments although it should be recognised that smaller community developments may also contribute to a cumulative effect, particularly if poorly sited. Such impacts may arise as a result of:
- an existing wind farm development and a proposed extension to that development;
- proposals for more than one wind farm development within an area;
- proposal(s) for new wind farm development(s) in an area with one or more existing development(s);
- any combination of the above.
58. In assessing cumulative effects, account should be taken of schemes within the vicinity that have been built, those which have permissions and those that are currently the subject of undetermined applications.
59. Developers should undertake a risk assessment setting out how all health and safety risks will be addressed, including those to members of the public. Technologies, such as wind turbines, are designed to operate to high standards. However, like most other engineering products, good risk management in relation to maintenance and design should be put in place to set performance standards, with the overall aim of controlling or eliminating risks. The minimum desirable distance between developments and occupied buildings, calculated on the basis of expected noise levels and visual impact, will be greater than that necessary to meet safety requirements.
60. The level of assessment needed will be directly related to the size and scale of the proposed renewable energy development and its location. For example, the blade length of a small scale wind turbine may be no more than 2 metres. The difference in scale leads to the visual and other impacts being significantly less. Consequently, the information sought by planning authorities from a developer should be tailored to the scale of the proposal and the sensitivity of the location and should be less onerous for smaller projects than that required for other larger proposals.
Environmental, social and economic benefits
61. Applications should include details of the environmental, social and economic benefits that will arise from the project, both locally and nationally, including the overall number of jobs and economic activity associated with the procurement, construction and operation of the development. Planning authorities should consider whether any such benefits could or should reasonably be secured by way of a planning condition or planning agreement.
62. General information on the availability of transmission capacity is publicly available in the Seven Year Statement published by the National Grid Companies ( NGC). Specific information about the availability of capacity for a particular development is discussed in detail between the Transmission System Operator ( NGC), the relevant Transmission Owner ( SHETL or SPTL) and the developer once an application is made for connection to the transmission system. Developers may wish to provide a statement of the likely grid connection with their application. However, whether or not a scheme has a reserved connection should not be taken into account in the determination process although available capacity on the grid to accommodate a project should be a material planning consideration.
63. Consideration of the significance of any adverse impacts of a renewable generation proposal should have regard to the projected benefits of the proposal in terms of the scale of its contribution to addressing climate change through its contribution to the Scottish Executive's targets for renewable energy. A relevant consideration should be whether such a scale of renewables contribution could be realised with fewer or lesser impacts in a different location or through several, smaller projects. Projects making a small contribution to renewables targets should not be dismissed as of little benefit, as they may have the potential to make a significant contribution cumulatively.
64. Where valid planning concerns have been raised as part of the pre-application considerations, the applicant will need to show how these can be overcome or how any detrimental environmental effects can be mitigated, where appropriate advancing any material arguments which might outweigh objections to the proposed development.
65. It is common practice for temporary consents of 20 or 25 years to be issued for wind farm developments. Planning authorities should include appropriate conditions for the decommissioning of renewable energy developments - particularly wind farms - and their restoration when they reach the end of their design life, taking into account any proposed after-use of the site. In addition, planning authorities should ensure that sufficient finance is set aside to enable operators to meet their restoration obligations. An authority should satisfy itself that this finance is secured irrespective of whether the developer or operator of the development is still in business at the end of the consent period, and may for example require financial guarantees, binding against the developer or operator and any successors in title, by way of a Section 75 planning agreement, as part of the approval of planning permission to ensure that restoration will be fully achieved.
66. SODD Circular 4/1998 The Use of Conditions in Planning Permissions sets out policy and guidance on the use of conditions in planning permissions. An addendum to Circular 4/1998 sets out model conditions. Additionally, SODD Circular 12/1996 Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972: Planning Agreements covers the use of planning agreements.