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Planning Policy for Renewable Energy in Northern Ireland

Element recently undertook a thorough study for the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland. The final report remains the property of DfI


On 1st April 2015, the former DOE transferred responsibility for the majority of planning functions to 11 new councils. This marked the most significant change to the planning system in the north of Ireland in over 40 years and empowers local councils to shape how their area grows and develops. Councils are now responsible for the preparation of local development plans, determining the vast majority of planning applications and the enforcement of planning control.

On the 9th May 2016, the restructuring of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) culminated in a reduction of the number of Government Departments in the north of Ireland from twelve to nine. The new Department for Infrastructure (‘the Department’) retains responsibility for regional planning policy and legislation, determination of regionally significant and called-in applications, performance management and oversight and guidance for councils.

To support the move to the new two tier planning system which commenced on 1st April 2015, the Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) was prepared. It is a shorter, simpler, strategic planning policy framework. The SPPS was published on 28th September 2015. The primary focus of the SPPS was the consolidation of some twenty policy publications into one document, setting out strategic planning policy in relation to a wide range of subject policies, including regional policy for ‘Renewable Energy’, which is now one of two policies that are the focus of a full review.

The Job.

The contractor will carry out comprehensive research in relation to strategic planning policy on onshore Renewable Energy development, which will involve facilitating stakeholder engagement event(s), the structure and timing of which shall be agreed by the Department prior to being organised. The contractor will provide Policy Options (to include the pros and cons of each option) and recommend the preferred option on the future direction of strategic planning policy for this topic.

Detailed Requirements

The consultant is required to:

  • Have regard to all relevant factors necessary to provide an overview of the wider context for strategic planning policy for onshore Renewable Energy development, including its inter-relationship with other strategies such as the Strategic Energy Framework. The contractor shall analyse and describe the impacts of onshore renewable energy developments, to include the pros and cons of the current policy approach. This will address the wider benefits and costs of onshore renewable energy development in terms of social, economic and environmental impacts, and describe the implications of renewable energy policy spatially;
  • Carry out a comparative review of policy and practice in other jurisdictions of Britain and the south of Ireland (where appropriate, the consultants may draw upon relevant research projects recently carried out);
  • Analyse the impact and effectiveness of existing policy provisions for the various types of onshore renewable energy developments in the context of the aim and objectives of the SPPS and extant policy provisions within PPS 18;
  • Identify present and likely future trends in renewable energy and associated infrastructure, for the Region over the short, medium, and long term. This shall incorporate reference to social, economic, environmental and technological circumstances and should draw upon relevant regional and sub-regional data, past trends and relevant spatial information;
  • Consider contemporary research and best practice with a view to recommending the appropriate strategic planning policy direction on the following matters and any other relevant factors, for the north of Ireland;amenity considerations associated with wind energy development to include noise (including amplitude modulation) and shadow flicker;
  • visual amenity considerations to include the cumulative impact of onshore renewable energy technologies on the landscape and designated sites such as AONBs;
  • separation distances for wind turbines and wind farms from neighbouring properties;
  • the effects of solar energy development including visual impacts, separation distances, glint and glare, noise and general amenity issues of proposals; and,
  • site restoration and decommissioning considerations at the end of the life span of relevant onshore renewable energy developments.
  • Undertake a full and comprehensive stakeholder engagement process to inform key findings and policy options. Meaningful engagement with stakeholders will be critical to informing the research and policy options. The structure, timing and delivery of the stakeholder engagement and associated event(s) must have the prior agreement of the Department. 
  • Produce a Research Report which must present key findings and policy options with recommendations for the future direction of strategic planning policy for all types of onshore Renewable Energy development (including wind, solar, hydro, anaerobic digestion etc). The research report will also indicate any matters that should be more appropriately considered through Local Development Plans or through supplementary planning guidance. Lessons for the future direction of strategic planning policy in the north of Ireland should be clearly outlined and justified. Furthermore, any implications for other SPPS policies should be clearly stated. An interim / draft report shall be provided for the Department’s consideration within 4 months of the inception meeting for the project.
  • Explore any other relevant and desirable evidence which demonstrates a unique approach to this project (to be carried out in agreement with the Department).

Ultimately the aim of the project was to provide an updated evidential context to inform the best strategic planning policy approach for onshore renewable energy which furthers sustainable development and which is appropriate for the two-tier planning system.