In 2020, in line with its drive to net zero, the government announced a review of the energy National Policy Statements (NPS) that set out government policy for the delivery of major energy infrastructure.

Photo by Chris Barker on Unsplash
First introduced in 2011, National Policy Statements (NPS) set out government policy for the delivery of nationally significant infrastructure.

The government’s 2020 Energy White Paper set out a long-term strategic vision for energy infrastructure, consistent with the UK’s ambition to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The White Paper establishes the goal of moving from fossil fuels to clean energy.

In a review of all National Policy Statements for energy infrastructure, the government determined that documents EN-1 through EN-5 should be amended to reflect the policies set out in the White Paper and support investment in clean infrastructure.

An ongoing consultation closes on 29 November, and the LI is seeking views from our members to support our response.

A summary of changes

One consistent difference is the decision-making aspect. Previously, energy NPS stated the now-defunct Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) had decision-making powers; this responsibility now falls to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

There are new generic changes to the landscape assessment sections laid out in NPS1, which we will discuss later in this briefing. New sections address the specific impacts to landscape and biodiversity of pumped hydro storage and photovoltaic generation. Further developments to tidal stream energies and wind turbines will be encouraged offshore, with potential impacts for seascape assessments.

Another implication of the updated NPS is the new Biodiversity Net Gain mandate. This will mean a ramp up in habitat creation and enhancing the existing landscape to promote biodiversity. The energy NPS document also explores the ‘good design’ principles for energy infrastructure.

Increased scope

The overarching NPS for Energy (EN-1) has more direct impact, as opposed to the previously high-level EN-1. It is the primary policy document for decision making where there is no technology-specific NPS, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen, or other forms of novel low-carbon generation.

EN-1 also makes it clear that it will be, in conjunction with any relevant technology-specific NPS, the primary policy for the Secretary of State’s Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) decision making on energy infrastructure.

Generic impacts to landscape

There is an entirely new sub-chapter highlighting the visual effects on the landscape that energy projects will have:

  • Cooling towers
  • Exhaust stacks
  • Various cooling systems

Landscape and visual impacts of energy projects will vary on a case-by-case basis according to the type of development, its location, and the landscape setting of the development.

Good design

The term ‘good design’ appears frequently in the new NPS. What this means simply for building design is that new buildings must be both fit for purpose and sustainable. Applying this ‘good design’ principle to energy projects should produce sustainable energy infrastructure in the UK.

Pumped hydro storage

A new aspect of the energy NPS will be the expansion of pumped hydro storage (PHS) in the UK’s electricity grid. PHS used for the storage of electricity rather than the generation. PHS helps decarbonise the electricity system by making the electricity supply more renewable, and providing greater flexibility to demand.

This will present landscape impacts to mountainous or hilly areas:

  • Construction of substantial concrete dams
  • Construction of generating stations
  • Substantial civil works for the schemes foundations and to dig the reservoirs
  • Flooding of land to create reservoirs

Solar photovoltaic generation

The expansion of solar photovoltaic generation (SPG) will be done onshore and will cover areas on low-lying landscapes with exposure to sunlight. The impacts will be as follows:

  • Large areas covered with solar farms
  • Land used for a construction compound to assemble necessary components

Assessment principles

There is a greater focus on environmental principles, including marine considerations, and new sections cover biodiversity net gain, early engagement with stakeholders, and good design principles. New sections are also included on the 25-year Environment Plan.

Biodiversity Net Gain

A new part of the energy NPS is Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG). This is the requirement to leave the local natural environment around and within a development in a measurably better state (specifically, 10% better) than previously.

Part of the new energy landscape will include opportunities to enhance biodiversity. This means that all applicants will need to seek opportunities in the projects to enhance biodiversity – although this is not a legal requirement.

The LI policy team has produced a summary of the key changes, which you can download here.

If you would like to input into the consultation know more about this or our other ongoing policy projects, please email the team at policy@landscapeinstitute.org.

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