Expert Support Network for planners

An expert advice, information and guidance service for local planning officers

Project duration: January 2009 to April 2010

As demand for low-carbon forms of energy have grown - prompted by government policy and a changing energy market - local planning authorities have found themselves on the receiving end of an increasing number of applications for developments such as wind farms or biomass plants.

This kind of development is usually quite complex. A planner assessing a wind farm would need to address issues like noise, landscape and visual impact, effects on wildlife, aviation impacts, and the building of associated infrastructure such as service tracks and an electricity substation amongst others.

A large biomass plant's planning application might cover issues such as transportation of fuel, emissions and noise.

In order to help local and regional planning officers across England – who may have limited knowledge and experience of dealing with renewable energy developments – the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) funded CSE to manage an Expert Support Network to provide the necessary support and guidance.

Launched in 2009, the Expert Support Network gave planning officers access to appropriate experts on a range of different relevant issues, ranging from expertise on individual renewable technologies and their impacts, to expertise on policy and plan-making for renewables.

The expectation was that better-informed and supported planners should be able to make swifter decisions, and ones based on sound advice and robust evidence. This would hopefully reduce the number of planning applications which are referred up to inquiries which are a drain on a local authorities resources and a disincentive to developers and energy companies.

Initially, the Expert Support Network ran as a two-month trial from the beginning of February to the end of March 2009. Following an evaluation which indicated that there was demand for the network, it was extended to the end of March 2010.

Officers from local planning authorities who have an eligible query could submit it through the Planning Renewables website (www.planningrenewables.org.uk) and access up to one day's worth of free support from the network of over 80 experts.

Queries submitted varied from the complex - requiring in-depth research, clarification and response, requiring a full-day - to the relatively straightforward, where a half-day or few hours' worth of support would be sufficient.

As well as planning officers in both forward planning and development management, other local authority officers were also able to benefit from the service.

The Expert Support Network was part of a range of activities that CSE manages on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), with the support of the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG), including the Planning Renewables website and a series of workshops on planning and renewables.

The programme is aimed at ensuring that the right skills, knowledge and capability are available within the planning community at local and regional level.

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