Central Lincolnshire sets out its roadmap to a carbon neutral future

A commitment moving the Central Lincolnshire area towards carbon neutrality has been strengthened through a decision to review local planning policy to better address climate change.
Wind farms.Wind farms.
Wind farms.

Meeting yesterday (Monday), the Central Lincolnshire Joint Strategic Planning Committee, which sets the overall planning framework under which planning applications are determined across North Kesteven, West Lindsey and the City of Lincoln, has begun a process to ‘demonstrably assist’ Central Lincolnshire in becoming a carbon net-zero sub-region as soon as is practicably possible.

Building on the climate action position of each of the partner councils, the committee has proposed a series of policies. These will be subject to at least four rounds of public consultation and input within an eight-stage process before

potentially forming the core of an updated Local Plan, to act as a blueprint for Central Lincolnshire through to 2040.

However, some opposition councillors are already warning the plan is leaning too heavily towards more “inefficient” onshore wind turbine developments, instead of more solar power.

The suggested principles – which also build on previous consultation feedback that the Local Plan needed to do more to reduce emissions – give a very clear steer of how the committee wants the Local Plan to tackle climate change.

They broadly cover:

* Regulate new building standards to improving the energy efficiency of homes and other buildings to reduce energy demand;

* Facilitate appropriate levels of renewable energy generation consistent with achieving net zero compatibility;

* Support wider infrastructure improvements, such as energy storage;

* Facilitate wider transition to a net-zero carbon position;

* Establishing and protecting areas that are, or could become, ‘carbon sinks’;

* Encouraging and facilitating wider improvements such as in how we travel, use materials and distribute growth.

These six strands form a complete package of measures to meet the net-zero target.

Renewable wind and solar energy generation are seen as central to this, with a target of 30 per cent of energy needed by Central Lincolnshire’s to be generated within the three districts, requiring no more than 0.25 per cent of the land across Central Lincolnshire’s 365 sq mile area - this would entail between 50 and 75 wind turbines, including those already permitted at Heckington Fen.

The authorities say there are no firm or final proposals, other than a direction for officers to continue drawing up a policy framework that ensures only suitable infrastructure is supported, in the right locations and subject to thorough assessment.

An initial six-week consultation on a draft Local Plan including these proposals could follow over the summer, after the committee’s next meeting in June.

Committee chairman, Coun Richard Wright, also Leader of North Kesteven District Council, said: “There is no denying the scale of the challenge before us in achieving carbon-neutrality for Central Lincolnshire; and it is a challenge which

we must respond to. The package of measures proposed is indicative of what needs to be done if we are to achieve our ambition and achieve a net-zero carbon; they lay out the choices we all have to face in saving energy, reducing

carbon and strengthening climate resilience.”

West Lindsey District Council Leader, Coun Owen Bierley said: “We are all agreed on the destination of carbon neutrality in order to address climate change and what we have done here is to map out our direction of travel. There is a very long way to go before any of these ideas or suggestions become converted into something on the ground, with a lot more public consultation and engagement along the way.”

City of Lincoln Council Leader, Coun Ric Metcalfe, said: “If we are all agreed that urgent action is needed in respect of climate change, which we are; then we must ‘will the means’ for that action to be taken. It is our duty as a strategic planning committee to do that.”

North Kesteven and City of Lincoln councils have both declared a Climate Emergency and set out plans to achieve a zero carbon position within their areas by 2030, West Lindsey is looking to bring its target forward from 2050 to 2041

and Lincolnshire County Council is committed to reach net-zero by 2050.

The measures outlined are, according to consultants, all necessary in order to achieve a net-zero carbon Central Lincolnshire in as short (but practicable) time as possible.

They say that under current practices, after seven years the Central Lincolnshire area would have a carbon debt, but the quicker and deeper carbon savings can be made now, then that seven years’ worth of carbon ‘budget’ can be spread

over a longer time period – by which point a truly net-zero society and economy could be achievable and operational.

Lincolnshire Independent North Kesteven District Councillor Peter Lundgren, as well as the group’s Leader, Coun Marianne Overton, believe the recommendations are too heavily weighted towards onshore wind farms.

Coun Lundgren commented: “I think we all support the need for a carbon zero future but this proposal which includes wind turbines is so wrong in so many ways.

“Lincolnshire has the huge offshore wind turbine arrays but according to the consultant’s studies there is a need for onshore generation to meet local need. Currently solar delivers about a third of the anticipated future need for onshore generated while wind turbines produce none.

“The goals in our Local Plan have to be deliverable but looking at the track record of wind versus solar I would argue that we can’t be confident that wind will be able to deliver its share of the total within the required timescale, whereas solar has a demonstrable track record of generating the power needed. And coupled to battery storage of power that generated capacity can be available when the solar panels are not producing.

“In terms of deliverability it begs the question why aren’t we proposing 100 per cent of our on-shore generation from solar?”

He went on: “Some have objected to the use of farmland for the production of electricity instead of food and obviously solar panels cover a bigger area than wind turbines to generate the same power. However, I think we need to look at how we are using our finite land resource differently. Essentially fields capture sunlight to produce food, fibre and fuel to feed and clothe people. But some of our food production does not go into the food chain, for example the growing of maize for anaerobic digester electricity plants and wheat for ethanol production. So I ask what’s the difference between a field of maize for electricity production and a field of solar panels? In fact, I could argue that solar panels are better for the countryside and the environment because solar panels don’t require the agrochemicals and pesticides needed to grow maize and wheat.”

Coun Lundgren added: “Some people assume that a field full of solar panels is only producing electricity. In fact, if managed sympathetically the land amongst the solar panels can be a valuable space for wildflowers and creating wildlife habitat – doubly valuable in our intensively farmed landscape.

“The government proposals to reform the support for farmers to in future include using taxpayer money to take land out of production for one or two years to create space for wildlife, help soils recover and improve water quality. If you think about it, putting solar panels in a field is achieving the same goals – providing habitat, improving soil and water quality - whilst generating electricity, but with the benefit of not requiring taxpayer support.

“I do worry that the decision has been made without due comparison between the options and understanding the wider implications and practicalities of imposing commercial-sized wind turbines into our countryside.

“We should be exploring all the alternatives to generate power on a micro and commercial scale whilst doing everything to reduce our energy usage. When, and only when, we have exhausted all the alternatives and we still have an energy deficit, should we consider on-shore wind turbines.

Coun Overton warned that this policy may indicate the green light to previously rejected wind farm plans such as Nocton Fen.

Instead she said the objective should be to be more efficient, using less and more local, innovative solutions, such as roads that make electricity, solar panels over car parks, roofs and walls that look ordinary structures, but make electricity and heat water.

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