The Royal Town Planning Institute has commissioned Regen, The Landmark Practice, Pell Frischmann and the University of the West of England to undertake a research project on planning for a smart energy future. The research aims to understand the potential for the planning system to take a proactive, forward-looking and positive approach to supporting the UK’s transition to a smart energy future.

At the end of September, we held a stakeholder workshop – kindly hosted by TLT in their fantastic conference room in Bristol. The workshop was aimed at steering the focus of our research. Delegates were invited from a range of backgrounds, from storage developers, to local authority planners, to legal and policy experts.

The conversation was wide-ranging, covering topics from the specific, such as how to convince elected members of the value that storage projects have to the UK energy system, to broader questions, such as how can Local Plans be flexible enough to plan for unknown technology development.

 

Key themes emerged through the stakeholder workshop which will steer the project. These included:

 

  1. Communicating the benefits and impacts: How should the smart energy transition be communicated?

 

Planners have a broad place-making role that requires them to consider the vast range of impacts that development has on people and places.  Energy is one small aspect of what they need to consider and is often assigned lesser priority in the planning process than core planning matters such as housing, jobs and transport.  Rather than seeing smart energy as an additional burden both on developments and on the planners’ role, planners should be supported to understand the potential benefits of smart energy to the policy objectives of delivering good quality housing, increasing employment opportunities and reducing transport congestion.  The impacts of smart energy infrastructure also need to be made clear, especially as some technology will be unfamiliar to those making planning decisions.  Through the research, we will explore how the benefits and impacts of smart energy can best be communicated to different audiences.

 

  1. Maximising the opportunities provided by our multi-level planning system: What are the tools available to incorporate smart energy into planning?

 

Planning is delivered over a range of spatial and procedural levels, from Neighbourhood Plans, to Local Plans, to Joint Spatial Plans across multiple authorities, and using a variety of planning tools, such as site allocations, energy masterplans and Local Development Orders.  What is the appropriate level to consider different aspects of smart energy and what does an effective energy policy look like?  How is national planning policy constraining or enabling a positive approach to smart energy in local planning?  Our research will use this theme to frame our work, looking at each level and the available tools, and making recommendations about how opportunities can be maximised to integrate smart energy in new development, existing buildings and infrastructure.

 

  1. Engagement: How can the smart energy sector, communities, planners and other stakeholders engage proactively with each other to encourage positive outcomes?

 

There is a clear need for strong and effective engagement between the industry, stakeholders and the planning system.  Through our research, we will explore how this engagement can be enabled.  Where are there good examples of stakeholder engagement?  How can these be replicated in other areas?

 

The next step is an online questionnaire for planners and the smart energy industry.

 

This survey will be circulated widely to planners, the smart energy sector and other stakeholders.  We will be looking for examples of good practice both in the UK and abroad, as well as insights into things that could be done better from both sides of the planning fence.

 

We will also be holding a round-table discussion at lunch time at Regen’s Renewable Futures conference, on 27 November in Bath.  For more information on Renewable Futures, including the agenda and ticket prices: https://www.regen.co.uk/event/renewable-futures-and-green-energy-awards/

 

If you would like more information, please contact Hazel Williams, hwilliams@regen.co.uk

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