Saltholme RSPB reserve, near Middlesbrough.

National Policy Statements

Faced with the threat of climate change, we believe a low-carbon energy revolution is essential to safeguard biodiversity.

National Policy Statements

Impacts on the environment must be properly addressed in planning for new infrastructure. 

We are very concerned that the draft 2009 ports and energy National Policy Statements have been developed without proper consideration of these impacts. The briefing and two reports - available in the downloads section - explain our concerns.

In 2009, the Department for Energy and Climate Change published six draft National Policy Statements (NPS) relating to large-scale energy infrastructure, such as power stations. The department for Transport published an NPS on the development of ports. Each NPS will guide consent decisions taken by the new Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC).

Each draft NPS is accompanied by an 'Appraisal of Sustainability'. These appraisals set out to meet the requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive – a requirement since 2004. SEA is a participatory appraisal process whereby individual plans can be made more sustainable and capacity for more sustainable planning can be developed.

A key part of this process is assessment of the 'likely significant effects on the environment' of 'reasonable alternatives'. The plan maker is not required to select the least environmentally damaging alternative, but the findings should be used to integrate environmental considerations into the final plan.

Teething problems

In their interim report to the RSPB and WWF-UK, Collingwood Environmental Planning review the literature on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) effectiveness.

They consider lessons from two case studies – the SEAs of the Scottish National Planning Framework (NPF2) and the Eco-towns policy and programme.

They found there are some serious teething problems with SEA as a sustainability tool, but that it can and has been used well in Europe.

Unfortunately this has not been the case in the Appraisals of Sustainability (AoSs) for the National Policy Statements (NPSs), according to Collingwood Environmental Planning's (CEP) final report.

As our briefing explains, CEP found that none of the AoSs fully meets the requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive. As the summary table in the report (and in the briefing) shows, the AoS relating to the ports NPS is of particularly poor quality.

In the non-nuclear energy AoSs, CEP found that the Department for Energy and Climate Change has not considered 'reasonable alternatives' to the plans it is proposing. This appears to go against the requirements of the SEA Directive and those of the Planning Act 2008.

Common or Eurasian crane Grus grus, flock flying close to wind turbine, Near Diepholz, Lower Saxony, Germany

Missed opportunity

We agree with Collingwood Environmental Planning that the Appraisals of Sustainability represent a missed opportunity to ensure the infrastructure the UK needs is built in a sustainable way.

In our briefing we call on the Government to embrace Strategic Environmental Assessment more positively as a mechanism for active engagement and better strategic planning and to re-initiate the appraisal process for the draft National Policy Statements.

Surf on rocky shoreline at Mull Head, North Hill RSPB reserve, Papa Westray, Orkney