Sea of Green

Mitch Cooke, founder of Greengage Environmental LLP, blogs on planning policy and the scale of Government intervention required to reap the benefits of the green economy.

It’s clear that there is a wasted opportunity for small to medium sized businesses within the UK trying to make the most of the green economy. Unless something changes in the way that funding and investment is made then the expertise and experience that UK companies have will be lost and we will lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to the development and selling of new technologies.

A step forward in helping the development and marketing for businesses was seen in the Green Investment Bank (GIB) and the attraction of investment from other sources than just the Government.

So it’s interesting to read that the GIB has signed a memorandum of understanding with Abu Dhabi’s state renewable energy firm Masdar to consider joint investments in UK clean energy projects. Masdar is willing to invest some £1bn over the next seven years – as the GIB’s current budget is just £3bn this is a significant boost to the coffers.

This should be seen as a positive move and it will certainly introduce potential investment opportunities, but will it benefit SMEs in the UK? Given that Masdar has already invested £500m in the £1.8bn London Array, the UK’s largest offshore wind farm, the money is likely to go to offshore wind projects. The benefits to the supply chain will help SMEs but we need more direct intervention and funding to make the most of market opportunities.

An example of good intervention is the government’s decision to amend the English Town and Country Planning Order, so that small-scale energy installations built on agricultural or forestry land will be exempt from planning permission. However, even this is far from perfect. While farmers and landowners who install renewable energy systems, such as solar panels on existing buildings and anaerobic digesters, on farming or non-domestic land will benefit other installations such as air source heat pumps have been excluded at present and there are other restrictions to the planning exceptions.

The recent relaxation of planning regulations for some small scale energy installations will certainly help get more schemes built but it will only benefit a small section of potential developers. It should be thought of as a (baby) step in the right direction, but can we see some giant steps forward please?