Which Way is the Wind Blowing?
Two imminent changes to the development consent order (DCO) regime - the removal of onshore wind developments and the introduction of ‘related’ housing - prompt interesting questions about how the localism agenda is understood in the context of nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) proposals. In particular, can housing actually be delivered through the DCO process, while keeping the spirit of localism alive?
The Infrastructure Planning (Onshore Wind Generating Stations) Order 2016 is due to come into force on 1 March 2016. This will effectively change the thresholds in the Planning Act 2008 that dictate whether a wind farm scheme is to be considered as an NSIP or not. Reflecting the Conservative Party’s Manifesto and subsequent promises, and in tandem with a clause in the Energy Bill 2015-16, this will effectively remove onshore wind farms from the DCO consenting regime, and give the power to determine onshore wind schemes, even those above the previous threshold of 50 MW, back to local planning authorities.An Energy Bill factsheet, published this month by the Department of Energy & Climate Change, makes clear that these changes are the realisation of the Government’s manifesto commitment to decentralise decision-taking on onshore wind. It is explicit in stating that the vociferous local opposition often directed at wind farm applications has led the Government to wash its hands of this particular decision-making responsibility. The move is intended, ostensibly at least, to allow local communities to have a greater say in the determination of wind schemes.Framing wind farm development as a local issue however, too sensitive to communities to be handled by the Secretary of State, invites comparisons with a seemingly different approach being taken elsewhere in the UK’s emerging legislative framework on DCOs.
Homes under the…NSIP Regime
The Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16 is now at Committee stage in the House of Lords, complete with draft clause 144 (formally 107) which will allow for ‘related housing development’ to be included in an infrastructure scheme application for a DCO. A DCLG Briefing Note published back in October 2015 sought to iron out some of the ambiguity of this clause; it confirms that up to 500 residential units may be considered by virtue of a geographic proximity or a ‘functional’ link.Whilst the scope for a qualifying scheme will be restricted, introducing any form of housing into the NSIP regime is an exciting prospect for those who see the DCO as a mechanism that is not yet used to its full potential. But the new mechanism does sit a little uneasily with the spirit of the ‘localism agenda’.The Government has gone to great lengths to address housing as a local issue, with need and supply defined and planned for by local planning authorities. Notwithstanding the extensive consultation and LPA inputs that are characteristic of the DCO process, the imminent removal of onshore wind schemes shows that the Government is not oblivious to how the DCO process can be seen as ‘skipping’ the local level.So how will the NSIP regime fare once/if housing elements start to crop up (even if it is limited to ’related housing’), and to what degree will development plan ‘local’ housing policy, and potential community backlash, be allowed to influence consideration of the principle of a DCO application as a whole?
A Point of Principle
While many residential schemes are (eventually) determined by the Secretary of State already, the DCO process is designed to deliver infrastructure development for which there is a pre-determined, national scale need, ordinarily enshrined in a National Policy Statement. It is not designed as a forum to debate the principle of development, something which would be surely inevitable if ’related’ housing elements are considered as part of NSIP DCO applications. Quite how this will work will be interesting to follow, particularly given the degree of community interest generated by housing developments normally.Time will tell how local communities will react if a perception emerges that they, and their local planning departments, are being denied the opportunity to determine applications for certain housing developments, particularly if the residential element is seen as ‘riding the coat-tails’ of an NSIP, through to achieving development consent.
From a delivery perspective, the flexibility to progress much-needed housing in NSIP schemes seems to be ‘a good thing’ - although the vast majority of housing will not quality for the DCO ‘treatment’, and will continue to be determined via conventional planning applications (and appeals). Regardless, removing onshore wind from the DCO regime with one hand, but introducing elements of ’related’ housing with the other, appears to be a contradiction.Any NIMBYist outcry against housing delivered in this way, should it materialise, will pit the resilience of an expanded DCO regime against the traditional interpretation of localism. Localism seems to have won the day with onshore wind…will housing fare better?
As much as Donald Trump would like to deny it, climate change is a real problem, caused by the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere thanks to our extensive use of fossil fuels, deforestation and our intensive farming methods. These are the key factors causing the greenhouse effect which traps heat, warming the earth up and causing new weather patterns which are affecting animal and human habitats (www.wwf.org.uk). We know that this is having a detrimental effect on a myriad of animal species and even humans but what effects will our warmer, wetter planet have on our cultural heritage?I would like to be able to tell you that these effects are still a few years away and we have time to prepare, but I would be lying. You will have seen the chaos caused by storms in the UK over Christmas and the New Year: in short, climate change is already affecting our historic places.Strong winds during Storm Frank were responsible for the collapse of the north jetty of Birnbeck Pier in Weston-super-Mare. The Grade II* listed pier is the only one in Britain which leads to an island. Built in 1867, it was closed in 1994 and has been deteriorating ever since. Although it was not unexpected, its sorry state should not be taken as evidence that it was bound to collapse anyway. Hurricane force winds of 120mph battered the coastal town leaving many without power.
Portion of the collapsed pier (Timmy Curtis, BBC, 2015)
Heavy rain in Scotland led the wall of Category B listed Poosie Nansies pub in Mauchline, Ayrshire to collapse. Listed both for its architectural interest and its associations with Robert Burns, it took 25 firefighters to stop the rest of the building from disintegrating.
The collapsed wall of the Poosie Nansies pub in Mauchline (Alister Firth, Ayrshire Post, 2015)
The storms also led to extensive flooding and Category A listed Abergeldie Castle in Aberdeenshire (next door to the Queen’s Balmoral Estate) nearly fell into the River Dee. Severely elevated water levels eroded the river bank, undercutting the foundations and forcing the Baron of Abergeldie (whose family have owned the estate since 1482) to evacuate. Built around 1550, the distinctive Scottish tower house retains many of its original features but where the river bank was once 60ft distant from the building, it is now just 5ft. Work to shore up the bank is ongoing.
Severely eroded river bank threatens the stability of Abergeldie Castle (Press and Journal, 2016).
Coastal erosion is also a significant heritage issue. Not a new one, but an issue that is certainly getting worse. Grade II listed Cavell Tower on the Dorset coast was saved from falling into the sea in 2006. Although this has had a substantial effect on the building’s setting, it was considered to be the only way to save the building from certain collapse. The tower was built in 1830 and had to be moved back from the cliff edge by 25 metres to stop it from toppling over the edge.
Restored Clavell Tower at a safer distance from the Cliff edge (Landmark Trust, 2016).
The National Trust has warned that this could be the fate of many more of our coastal landmarks, thanks to rising sea levels and the erosion of the coast. St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, Formby’s dunes near Liverpool and the entire fishing village of Porthdinllaen in north west Wales are just a handful of the 70 sites that the Trust have identified as being under threat.
Of course these problems aren’t confined to the British Isles. Medieval Mårup Church on the Jutland coast of Denmark is on the brink of falling into the sea and was partially dismantled in 2008 to save it from complete destruction. In 1793, the church was 500 metres away from the coast, today it is just nine. Coastal measurements suggest that the rate of erosion is rapidly increasing and many coastal sites in Arctic regions have already been lost, such as the Østterikeren research station on the island of Jan Mayen, built in 1882.
Mårup Church’s alarming proximity to the cliff edge (www.gronhoj.dayzresorts.no).
Global warming is also responsible for mudslides in Guatemala that destroyed the ruins of World Heritage Site Quirigura. If that seems too far away to be relevant, Westminster Palace, the Tower of London and Kew Gardens may all have disappeared by 2080 because sea level rise in the Thames Estuary will cause larger, higher tides.Historic buildings in general will suffer from increased ground level moisture because they are more porous than modern buildings (whc.unesco.org).Migrating pests could cause new problems for timber structures; flooding causes moisture and evaporation issues such as mould growth and an increase in stormy weather will cause structural damage (whc.unesco.org).I’m not suggesting that one pub is more important than hundreds of people made homeless by devastating weather conditions, or that a pretty Danish church should take precedence over an entire inhabited village falling into the sea. I just want to point out that climate change has an effect on many different aspects of our lives and it doesn’t just mean sunnier summers and warmer, windier winters, it means losing entire species, massive tracts of land and a fair few nice old buildings too.