A local take on the Energy White Paper

There have been no less than four General Elections since the last Energy White Paper was published in 2008, under the watch of a then Labour Government.

The Energy White Paper release comes almost five years to the day after the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change – a watershed moment in the global fight against climate change.

Following the declaration of the UK’s own legally-binding climate target in the summer of 2019, the Energy White Paper marks the next step in the Government’s path to Net Zero.

In very simple terms, the White Paper has three overarching aims:

  1. Complete the shift from fossil fuel to cleaner, greener energy sources
  2. Support jobs in ‘industrial heartlands’ across the north and west of England, Scotland and Wales
  3. Ensure affordability for consumers

For developers of infrastructure projects around the UK, the White Paper – although only a signal of the Government’s intent with regard to future energy policy – will have its impacts.

Moreover, further policy changes are set to follow with the Government having already confirmed its intention to review the Energy Policy Statements against which Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects are determined.

However, there is an important local angle to this discussion – and one that is already having a marked impact on decision and policy-making.

To date, over 75% of local authorities in the UK have declared a climate emergency.

Precisely what constitutes a climate emergency tends to vary from authority to authority but the thing they all have in common is a target to become carbon neutral by a certain point in the future.

More than half of local authorities that have declared a climate emergency having pledged to achieve this goal by 2030 – just nine years from now.

As part of this growing trend, we are already seeing many emerging Local Plans include specific policies around climate change and, before long, it seems likely that most major applications will need to include an assessment of their climate change impacts.

Despite this, some local authorities that have declared a climate emergency have simultaneously opposed clean energy projects within their area – and herein lies a key challenge for the sector.

If there is to be a step-change in the development of low-carbon energy generation then there will need to be a greater acceptance of major infrastructure projects by local authorities and their communities.

Our recent YouGov survey found that almost half of MPs felt public engagement on major infrastructure projects to date had been ineffective, while only one in five MPs said they felt the public understood the benefits of major infrastructure projects.

Despite this, our survey also found that 77% of MPs believe that local communities think Net Zero-aligned infrastructure projects can justify their negative impacts.

Clearly then, effective engagement on major infrastructure planning applications – including development consent order schemes – has never been more important.

At BECG, we have delivered effective communications and consultation programme on some of the UK’s most high-profile energy projects.

We have developed an industry-leading suite of digital engagement tools – Built to Engage – to enable our clients to reach the communities in which they are operating.

Our digital consultation for Bradwell B nuclear power station was cited as an example of best practice by the National Infrastructure Planning Association (NIPA).

Earlier this month, we were delighted to pick up the ultimate industry accolade – UK public affairs consultancy of the year – at the PRCA awards.

Why not talk to us about your communication requirements today?

To find out more, email James Wood or call 020 3697 7630