Renewables

The socio-economic benefits of on shore wind development were discussed at a recent Scottish Renewables seminar.

Material considerations

The law requires that planning applications be determined in accordance with the provisions of the development plan, unless “material considerations” indicate otherwise.

To be a relevant consideration, it must be a “material consideration”. There is no statutory definition of “material considerations”, although the courts have provided some guidance on a case-by-case basis.

The position with section 36 applications (50+MW) is slightly different: material considerations are relevant to the deemed planning permission application, but the remainder of the consent application has a wider scope.

Socio-economic benefits

It is generally accepted that socio-economic benefits are a material consideration. In relation to wind development, the Scottish Government refer to:

net economic impact, including local and community socio-economic benefits such as employment, associated business and supply chain opportunities

Draft advice has been published on net economic benefit and planning.

Community benefit and shared ownership

See my blog on these distinct issues.

Casestudies

Socio-economic benefits have been influential in consenting decisions.

For example, in the Creag Riabhach wind farm decision:

Whilst it is difficult to precisely quantify overall net economic benefits, given direct and indirect effects and timescales, Ministers are satisfied the development has the potential for a substantial positive net economic benefit

In the Ministers’ decision to grant permission for a tennis and golf centre at Dunblane, the socio-economic benefits were a key factor in their decision not to follow the reporter’s recommendation:

In reaching this view Ministers do not agree with the reporter’s conclusions in relation to the weight to be given to some of the material considerations, and have attached weight to the economic value of the proposed development and the regional and national importance of the sports facility.

What developers need to do

These casestudies show that socio-economic benefits can be a key consideration in consenting decisions. The challenge is to get beyond the perception that wind farms do not create “real” jobs. Supply chain opportunities and skills development are issues that can be highlighted – some developers are leading the way on that.

Socio-economic benefits should be investigated at an early stage of the project assessment work, when there is time for initiatives to be explored with local agencies/ groups.

The EIA report generally includes a socio-economic assessment. However, “winning hearts and minds” will require moving beyond the professional assessment, and thinking about persuasive communication. Infographics can help but it’s identifying the key messages that counts.

Government

Central and local government can assist by ensuring there are economic development staff available to review and verify socio-economic assessments, and to support developments which will provide significant socio-economic benefits.

 

 

Neil Collar

Neil Collar

Partner at Brodies LLP
Neil is a partner at Brodies LLP and consistently rated as one of Scotland’s leading planning lawyers. He is well known for both his planning inquiry advocacy and his advisory work. Neil has a particular interest in renewable energy developments.
Neil Collar