Evidence, Publics and Decision-making for Major Wind Infrastructure

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Bartlett Sch of Planning

Abstract

The involvement of affected communities in local planning for wind energy projects has been much examined. Typically, research has addressed the potential opposition to such schemes and sought to understand it. However, major wind energy developments do not go through the local planning system but are rather dealt with by the regime for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) established by the Planning Act 2008. Under this regime, major projects are considered by an Examining Authority from the Planning Inspectorate, who makes a recommendation in an extensive report to the Secretary of State, who then takes the decision. There are opportunities for affected communities to express their concerns about and aspirations for the projects, both in writing and at a public Examination. But, subject to important provisos, decisions must be made in accordance with relevant National Policy Statements, and these set out a strong policy commitment in favour of low carbon energy infrastructure investment. This raises interesting questions about how decision-making on major wind projects is taking the concerns of diverse local publics into account in practice. A pilot research project suggested that central government policy was constraining engagement with public concerns and aspirations and that, while publics considered that their views should be taken into account, they were doubtful that they would. Furthermore this pilot research suggested that local residential and business communities engaged differently with the NSIP regime and that various environmental impacts were also considered in diifferent ways. The reasons were seen to lie in the way that 'evidence' was framed within the decision-making process. This project therefore examines the way that local publics engage with decision-making on major wind infrastructure projects and how their local knowledge is framed as 'evidence', working through the implications for: the decision-making; the mitigation measures that are offered local communities to mitigate impacts; and - more broadly - the legitimacy of the NSIP regime. The project operates with a multi-disciplinary approach, drawing on planning studies, science and technology studies and legal studies. The conceptual framing that draws these different disciplines together is one that recognises the centrality of language in framing discussion, constructing knowledge and justifying decisions and the role of institutional arrangements in shaping how local communities are engaged with and treated by planning decision-making processes. The methodology bridges these disciplines by developing and adopting a common coding system for the various forms of data that are collected and linking this coding system closely to the concerns raised by the conceptual framework: how knowledge is constructed as evidence, how evidence is relied on in decision-making on major wind projects and how this affects local communities. The research questions that the project addressses are:
1. How are publics' concerns and aspirations taken into account in planning decision-making for major wind infrastructure projects?
2. How is the lay knowledge of publics and accredited expert knowledge constructed as 'evidence' within such decision-making?
3. How does the construction of knowledge claims as evidence impact on the handling of diverse publics' concerns over major wind projects in the final decision-making?
4. How does this affect the potential mitigation of impacts on local communities (residential and other) within such decision-making?
These questions will be answered by analysis of: documentary material relating to major wind projects held on the Planning Inspectorate website, discussion within focus groups on decision-making for such projects; survey of and interviews with local people who have been involved in such decision-making; and interviews and workshops with experts and key stakeholders in wind farm projects.

Planned Impact

The research will provide a deeper understanding of how publics' concerns and aspirations are handled within the decision-making process for major wind farm developments and how they are constituted (or not) as evidence. It will support the development of recommendations and guidance for how local communities may be engaged more effectively within these decision-making processes through innovative approaches and new methodologies for incorporating lay knowledge as evidence. There are a number of groups who will benefit from this research:
1. Local communities affected by proposed major wind farm developments;
2. Policy makers concerned with the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime, how it operates and how it may be improved and possibly reformed to enhance its legitimacy;
3. Local government planners and planning lawyers engaged in the day-to-day operation of the NSIP regime and dealing with local affected communities;
4. National non-governmental organisations (NGOs) concerned to represent local communities with respect to major wind farm projects and to overcome conflicts with environmental agendas, including climate protection; and
5. Wind farm developers seeking authorisation of major projects through the NSIP regime and also concerned about ongoing relationships with local communities in the viciinity of permitted developments.
The methodology of the project involves these different users at a number of stages to ensure both that their views are taken into account and also that emerging recommendations reflect the practicalities of all these different interests being involved in the NSIP authorisation regime. There is a thorough Pathways to Impact plan to maintain stakeholder involvement during the project and to ensure wide dissemination and impact as the project comes to a close.
 
Description Key findings
In this section we outline those aspects of our work that speak most directly and immediately to policy and practice. Our findings relate particularly to the twelve low carbon energy
infrastructure projects that we have studied (see methodology below). However, many of our findings will have implications for other examinations under the Planning Act 2008, and indeed other planning processes. Our study focused particularly on the examination stage of the NSIPs process, but our research suggests that this cannot be divorced from pre-application consultation, and post-consent governance arrangements. Accordingly, some of our findings relate to these stages.
Participation
• The importance of the pre-application procedures, including consultation, is not always well understood and appreciated by local communities. Nor is good practice consistently
applied by developers or local authorities across cases.
• Considerable efforts are made by some Examining Authorities to put lay participants at their ease, and enable them to make their representations at hearings.
• Structural issues nevertheless limit and shape the participation of local people and businesses within the NSIPs regime. Our work suggests that the following structural limitations are most significant:
o participation makes onerous demands of all stakeholders;
o resources and capacities (including time and funding) to meet those demands are unevenly distributed;
o local people sometimes find the hearings intimidating;
o heavy reliance on websites and email for communication can be problematic for some local people and businesses.
• Evidence from lay publics was found to be more effective when presented in a form equivalent to that produced by experts within statutory agencies and consultancies.
• The local interested parties with whom we engaged for the project held diverse views of the NSIPs processes. Although there were some positive comments, other views were often
very negative.
• Participants we surveyed perceive there to be imbalances in the power of different actors within the regulatory process.
• Negative perceptions and experiences of the NSIPs process may undermine the legitimacy of decision making, particularly for some local people in the vicinity of these infrastructure projects.
• Some local people are not confident that agreements to mitigate the adverse impacts of the project, made by developers within the examination, will be implemented.
Evidence
• Examining Authorities have significant freedom to shape the evidence that is provided in the examination, for example by asking questions and requesting fresh data. Contributions
from local people can help to guide this process.
• The evidential demands of the regulatory process are considerable, requiring in some cases the generation of knowledge in challenging and novel areas.
• There is a strong preference, when explaining and justifying its recommendations, for the Examining Authority to rely on technical forms of knowledge, especially when methodologies have been accredited by government or professional guidance.
• Less formalised knowledge held by local communities (such as information on bird habits from bird watchers, or on noise from sleep diaries) is generally not relied on in the explanation of decisions.
• Robust evidence on socio-economic impacts is often not provided. Local authorities often present a weak understanding of their local economies. Developers are not willing or able to provide the certainty on choice of port, procurement chains and associated employment, which would underpin a stronger analysis of impacts.
• Monitoring the impacts of a project is a frequent condition of DCOs, but data from monitoring is not managed or aggregated, and there is no consistent use of that data in later
decisions or policy.
• The considerable time pressure within the Examinations can create problems for the production of convincing evidence and the resolution of conflicts around evidence.
• The aspirations towards an inquisitorial approach are constrained by the strict time limits.
• Statements of Common Ground play a powerful role within the process.
o Statements of Common Ground are a valuable way of streamlining decision making, highlighting open issues, and progressing applications;
o whilst all issues in principle remain open for decision by the Examining Authority, in practice, Statements of Common Ground between statutory authorities and the applicant (and sometimes others) can close down areas for discussion. Site visits can play an important role in deciding which evidence to rely on in decision-making, particularly with regard to
assessing evidence on landscape, seascape and visual impacts.
Mitigation of impacts
• A major effect of the NSIPs regime, including the preapplication consultation as well as the examination, is to allow the negotiation of measures to mitigate project impacts. Mitigation can involve financial payments as well as changes to the infrastructure project itself.
• The monitoring and enforcement of agreements to mitigate the adverse impacts of a project rely on processes outside the NSIPs regime, including:
o monitoring of the impacts of the project during construction and operation by the developer;
o local authority and other regulatory (for example Environment Agency) responsibility for enforcing the terms of the DCO;
o ongoing and ad hoc governance arrangements, for example monitoring by and negotiation with local liaison groups.
• Fishing communities benefit from the outputs of the FLOWW (Fishing Liaison with Offshore Wind and Wet Renewables) group; however, there is nothing equivalent for
other local business communities.
Policy
• National Policy Statements play a powerful role in the NSIPs decision, confirming earlier research.8
• Whilst local and Welsh planning policy is a material consideration, and is considered in decision making, it has limited impact in justifying the decision.
• Certain protective underpinnings to the NSIPs regime (including for public participation, nature conservation, air and water quality) find their basis and their strong enforceability in EU law.
Exploitation Route The research team are actively working with a variety of stakeholders within the NSIPs regime to consider how a range of recommendations that we have developed might be implemented. The following recommendations are targeted at supporting present practice under the Planning Act, rather than arguing for any fundamental structural change to decision making on NSIPs. Many of the recommendations below make implicit, but deliberate and important, recommendations that adequate funding be provided for this process.
For the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government
• Government needs to provide adequate funding for statutory bodies (Natural England, the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, etc.) to meet the special demands placed on them by the NSIPs process, and its calls for evidence-based decision making.
• A dedicated funding stream should support the involvement of local residents and local business representatives in the NSIPs process, including at the pre-application stage. It is not appropriate to rely entirely on developers' commitment to community engagement at the pre-application stage.
• Protocols for involving and recognising the impacts on local businesses beyond the fishing industry should be established.
• An accessible central government repository for the collection, aggregation and management of data from monitoring of NSIPs should be provided.
For Local Government
• Local authorities should engage robustly with the preapplication consultations undertaken by the developer, emphasising the importance of full inclusion of local
communities.
• Local authorities should host a website setting out all preapplication representations received by the developer, and the developer's responses to them. This should remain accessible throughout the process.
• Local authorities should develop better intelligence on their local area, especially the local economy. They should invest adequately in Local Impact Reports, so that these properly
represent the local area.
• Local Authorities should take seriously their obligations to monitor and enforce compliance with the DCO. They should explain to their local communities exactly what they are
doing, and how local people can report concerns.
For the Planning Inspectorate
• The considerable good practice of some Examining Authorities, in enabling lay people to feel that they have had adequate opportunity to put their views and concerns
forward, should be shared more fully within PINs.
• When deciding whether to accept an application for a DCO, Examining Authorities should make use of their opportunity to scrutinise the substance and quality of pre-application
consultation.
• Examining Authorities should make greater efforts to engage with lay knowledge that is relevant to the application, but is not expressed in formal or approved methodologies or
approaches.
• Funding should be provided to ensure the fullest possible public involvement in decisions. This could include:
o funding for training or representation of the public at formal meetings;
o assistance to allow those unfamiliar with these sorts of archives to make use of the rich source of information provided by the NSIPs website.
• Opportunities should be provided for any interested parties to respond to Statements of Common Ground before they are finalised, for instance by a public register of draft
Statements of Common Ground.
For NGOs and local stakeholders
• Those representing local interests will have greater influence if they engage fully with the process, including the preapplication process, attending hearings, joining site visits and
responding to rounds of questions put by the Examining Authority.
• Local interested parties will be more influential if they provide evidence that is commensurate in rigour and depth with that offered by the applicant and expert agencies. They should be aware of the importance of sourcing relevant expertise.
• As well as presenting their own views and concerns as rigorously as possible, local interested parties should critique the representations of others where appropriate.
• Local interested parties should give consideration to coordinating with each other and / or to consolidating their representations through an umbrella NGO.
• Local interested parties should keep a careful watch on the development of Statements of Common Ground.
For developers
• Additional time building trust and community relations from the pre-application stage all the way through the process, extending to clarity on responsibilities for the monitoring of construction and operation, will contribute to more meaningful exchanges in consultations.
• Developers should help publics to understand the significance of all stages of decision making, especially the ways in which the pre-application consultation can set the scope of the
issues up for discussion during the examination.
• Best practice in consultation should always be followed. The following practices were particularly important in our research:
o varied scheduling of events to enable access for different audiences;
o accessible location of events;
o avoidance of last minute changes to venues and timing;
o a variety of communication options;
o avoidance of jargon, careful explanation of technical points.
• Developers should appoint a named individual for the public to speak to directly, and publicise this opportunity widely.
Sectors Energy,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://www.ucl.ac.uk/nsips
 
Description The project has had impact in terms of shaping the debates around the regulation of infrastructure, particularly for wind farms and other RE infrastructure. Following the Pathways to Impact plan, we have engaged with a number of different categories of actors. Research participants: We provided feedback to all research participants through an updated website (rather than freestanding newsletters originally envisaged) and emailed our database with details of these updates and the relevant links. There were two rounds of feedback. The Key Finding booklet was also emailed out to all participants. Broader stakeholder community: Of the 637 Key Findings booklets that were emailed out, about 25% were to stakeholder organisations; in addition, paper copies were distributed at a variety of events that we held and attended. In December 2017 we held an Academic Workshop with 30 invited participants, followed by a Practitioner Event with over 100 registered participants. We presented to the National Infrastructure Planning Association Council meeting in January 2018 and, in the same month, to a seminar convened by Pinsent Mason, the legal firm, which was followed by an invitation-only high level Roundtable Dinner. Policy impact: Engaging with central government has proved challenging during 2018 due to the dominance of the UK-Exit agenda. We decided to prepare the Key Findings booklet rather than rely on a UCL Public Policy briefing (as originally outlined) as this was a more effective way of engaging with policy debates. The research was referenced in the Raynsford Review 'Planning 2020' led by the Town and Country Planning Association and also in the Institute for Government report 'How to Transform Infrastructure Decision-Making'. In addition we used our research to respond to the BSEIS consultation of the use of the NSIPs regime for fracking projects. The Key Findings booklet has been submitted to the UK 2070 Commission chaired by Lord Kerslake and to the Labour Party in relation to their review of the planning system. Wider impact and dissemination: We have maintained an active website which has had about 1,700 unique visitors from 74 countries across every continent in the world; every Tweet from our Twitter account has been retweeted. We published practitioner-oriented articles in 'Town and Country Planning', 'Journal of Planning and Environment Law' and on the Royal Town Planning Institute blog in 2018. Our research was featured in the PRASEG (All Party Parliamentary Group for Renewable and Sustainable Energy) Newsletter in 2018. The findings were also selected for an ESRC press release.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services