Response from Shaun Spiers
Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this debate, and especially to Ed Miliband. We have had over 150 contributions to the blog, and it is clear that there is there is huge interest in how to achieve a sustainable, low carbon future without harming the countryside.
First, it is worth congratulating the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) on an encouraging first year. After years of energy and environmental policy being largely divorced, DECC under Ed Miliband’s leadership has firmly linked them – or at least the climate change aspects of environmental polcy. This is a major achievement. Some of the policies that have come out of DECC over the past year, particularly the draft Heat and Energy Saving Strategy, which contains good proposals for reducing energy demand and promoting energy conservation, have been very welcome.
No one should doubt the importance of tackling climate change. CPRE’s 2026 Vision for the countryside makes clear that we take the issue very seriously indeed. But climate change is not the only environmental issue. Many people are also rightly concerned, for instance, about the impact of energy policy on tranquillity, landscape and wildlife. They are also want to know that decisions are taken in an open and democratic way. It is therefore encouraging that the Renewable Energy Strategy gives a more prominent role to bottom up local planning, though of course much of the detail that will underpin planning decisions, including the new National Policy Statements, is still undecided.
Conflicting environmental goods
Perhaps part of the reason that wider environmental factors have not been connected to energy policy is that doing so exposes the conflicts that can exist between different environmental ‘goods’. Taking one of the most controversial examples as an example, most people agree that wind power will have to play a role in an environmentally sustainable energy mix. At the same time, most people see the value of landscapes that are undisturbed by industrial development.
I was struck by a comment by Andy Boddington, which goes beyond the sterile debate of whether wind turbines are ugly or beautiful: “Wind farms can be beautiful – witness Bryn Titli just over the hill in Powys. But they are a technological beauty, not the harmonious interplay between man and the landscape that is now known as ‘natural. So they are out of order in the AONB.'” Most CPRE members would agree that large-scale wind turbines are inappropriate in National Parks and AONBs, and will have been encouraged that Ed Miliband, without saying ‘never’, seems to agree.
What seems clear is that these conflicts are real and that they deserve to be recognised as genuinely motivated rather than being simply dismissed as ‘nimbyism’, a tedious and depressing insult. It should also be recognised that while there nothing wrong with people trying to protect places they love – the country would be a much poorer place if no one was prepared to so – local people cannot be given a veto over any development. That is why CPRE so strongly supports a planning system that can ensure that a range of arguments, whether from developers or local communities, are properly debated and that decisions are taken ultimately in the public interest, rather than any sectional interest.
Planning for a low carbon future
Planning is too often blamed for stopping wind farm development. Of course, the planning system does stop some developments. It would not be a very good system if it did not. Some developments deserve to be stopped. But as the ENDS Report, a highly reputable environmental journal has recently made clear, “enough onshore wind farms are receiving planning permission each year to meet the technology’s share of the UK’s 2020 renewable energy targets four years early”. DECC has largely stopped bashing the planning system, and we look forward to a similar change of heart on the part of the developers.
More positively, we would welcome a greater recognition of the role that planning can play in enabling the behaviour change that is essential to tackling climate change. One of the risks of not connecting wider environmental concerns with energy policy is that we focus too much on supply side measures. What is needed is a fundamental rethinking of the way we use land in light of the urgent need to live within environmental limits, including CO2 limits. I hope that CPRE can play its part in this by establishing a Commission to investigate how planning can contribute to this aim.
One area where the planning system is currently failing us, and where the Government does not seem very ‘joined-up’ is policy on opencast coal mining. It really is not good enough for Ed Miliband to say: “My department doesn’t play a role in making the decisions on planning applications for new coal mining developments – that falls within the remit of the Department for Communities and Local Government.” The Government as a whole has a duty to tackle climate change and pursue sustainable development, and the fact is that is that developers and local authorities know that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is likely to approve applications for opencast coal mining on appeal, however damaging to local communities, our climate change targets and the wider environment. It would be good to see DECC and Defra ministers objecting to this!
To conclude, we greatly welcome Ed Miliband’s contribution to this blog, and look forward to seeing his final response. If we are to get public consent for the changes that will be necessary to tackle climate change, it is vital that people are listened to and that legitimate concerns about landscape and natural beauty are not belittled or dismissed. Ed Miliband’s engagement with CPRE is an important indication of the Government’s willingness to debate these important issues in a serious and respectful way.