Planning reforms could help achieve Scotland’s climate change targets, argues lawyer
The process of planning and paying to build renewable energy schemes in Scotland needs to be simpler and less costly to better tackle the climate challenge, according to a senior lawyer who is advising on a number of schemes across the country, as well as acting for landowners.
Susan Law, a partner in the Rural Services team at Scottish legal firm Lindsays, believes that a simplified national planning system would better support the drive to achieve net zero by 2045.
She said: “The political ambitions around renewable energy are clear - we need more and quickly to replace other power sources. The practical realities of achieving that are, however, very different.
“As things stand, the reality is that it has actually become more difficult to invest in onshore wind - Scotland’s most successful renewable technology. That’s surely a situation in need of careful review.
“We are only likely to see more legislation and regulations to combat the climate emergency, with the COP26 summit in Glasgow setting the direction and pace of this.
“Simpler methods by which to secure planning permission, which see national policy reflected in local action, would be an excellent step in the transition to net zero.”
Ms Law hopes that the impetus that will follow the visit of world leaders to Scotland - and the spotlight shone on the nation’s own environmental aims - will spur meaningful talks between policymakers, renewable developers and landowners to achieve a better outcome for all.
She added: “For developers, the economics of wind farms are complex. On average, it takes 10 years for these projects to start making money. Current policy does not help that.
“But for landowners too, the situation is mixed. They have a chance to work with renewable developers on all manner of schemes, whether wind or hydro, or for battery storage. In some cases this helps with farm diversification.
“Yet the consents for projects, whether through planning or grid connections, can be extensive and demanding. There is no doubt that puts some people off, especially where they are looking at succession and tax planning themselves, which is hampering the national effort.”
As well as permissions for the likes of turbines and masts, Ms Law believes the Scottish Government should not overlook the need to provide directions to councils about how to put in place the supporting infrastructure too.
“Issues surrounding infrastructure - whether widened rural roads or purpose-built routes needed to get equipment to sites and getting the power to and from these projects - are among the biggest problems faced in getting schemes off the ground,” she said.
“These need to be addressed by the Government with local authorities. We, of course, need to protect the natural environment, balanced with the need to achieve net zero.”
In certain circumstances, Ms Law also believes developers should be able to secure compulsory purchase rights to ensure they can put infrastructure in place to safely get turbines in and the power they generate out.