Government proposals to streamline planning legislation met with a mixed response today with some environmentalists arguing it will lead to an erosion of the green belt and an increase in polluting infrastructure projects, while others countered that the plans would make it easier for firms to justify investments in onsite renewable energy.
The radical government proposals aim to simplify approval processes for small scale home improvements, such as extensions, wind turbines or solar panels. A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said that it was consulting about extending the same rules to apply to corporate buildings, making it easier for firms to install green technologies.
"You don't have to apply for planning permission for satellite dishes in most circumstances and we think the same should apply for solar panels and wind turbines," she added. "This means you won't have to go through the long bureaucratic process for approval."
Phillip Wolf, chief executive of trade group the Renewable Energy Association, welcomed the news adding that should the proposals be extended to commercial properties they would make it far easier for firms to justify investments in onsite renewable energy.
"It is important that the planning process becomes faster and these proposals should help achieve that," he said. "The current system is definitely a problem for businesses [interested in adding renewable energy generation to their buildings]. They accept that a few applications will be declined, but with the process taking so long they still have to spend money through that process. Investors hate any situation where they approve the money and then have to leave it sitting there waiting for planning permission."
However, some environmentalists and local councils have criticised the new proposals claiming that plans for an independent commission to make final decisions on large scale projects will fast track many environmentally damaging projects, such as airports, power stations and roads, and limit local residents ability to object to developments that directly affect them.
"Government claims that today's White Paper will cut red tape and help them to tackle climate change are a misleading smokescreen," said Friends of the Earth's Planning Coordinator High Ellis. "The UK has one of the most de-regulated planning systems in Western Europe. And expanding roads and airports will increase carbon dioxide emissions."
The government countered that tackling climate change was one of the key pillars of the proposed planning framework and the changes would help encourage investments in green technologies and speed the transition to a low carbon economy by eradicating the currently "confusing and unpredictable" planning system.
Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling added that the new framework would also help secure clean energy supplies by freeing up the planning approval bottle neck that is currently hampering plans for new wind farms.
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