Scotland’s 32 local authorities are facing a planning logjam that could jeopardise the country’s climate change targets, according to new research by industry body Scottish Renewables.

The research found that the number of planners employed by councils in Scotland has fallen by 20% since 2011, but the number of applications they will have to grant must increase if Scotland is to stay on track to net-zero emissions by 2045.

The UK must quadruple the amount of renewable electricity deployed by 2050 in order to meet its climate change targets, Scottish Renewables said.

The number of planning department staff employed across the Scottish local authorities which provided information fell from 1515 in 2011 to 1216 in 2020, the report said.

In the past 10 years, Scotland’s renewable energy capacity has grown from 2.8GW to 11.6GW, with 417 planning applications granted from the 800 submitted solely for technologies such as wind, solar, hydropower  and more during that 10-year period, it said.

To meet the Climate Change Committee’s most ambitious ‘speculative’ scenario, Scotland must install 134GW of renewable electricity generation to meet net-zero by 2045.

Scottish Renewables chief executive Claire Mack (pictured) called the situation “a hidden obstacle to net-zero”.

She said: “It is quite clear from this research that Scotland’s local authorities do not have the capacity to deal with the large number of planning consents which will be required as we shift our energy system to one based on renewable generation.

“The Scottish government’s declaration of a climate emergency and our stretching 2045 net-zero target mean we have no choice but to act.

“Scotland needs reliable, low-cost and sustainable energy and an independent, robust and well-resourced planning system is at the heart of delivering the projects which can provide that.

“Scottish Renewables and its members have raised the issue of local authority resourcing on many occasions.

“This new research throws into stark relief a hidden obstacle to net-zero and shows now is the time to commit to positive reform.”

In its manifesto for 2021’s Scottish Parliament election Scottish Renewables has called on the next Scottish government to introduce a low-carbon assessment into the planning process.

Assessments should recognise net-zero as a material consideration, with renewable energy always viewed as sustainable development that supports our national interest, the trade body said.

Mack said: “The scale of the challenge facing Scotland’s energy system is undeniable.

“Local authority planning departments are on the front line of delivering those projects and we urge ministers to fund local authorities appropriately to allow them to deliver net-zero.

“The Scottish government has shown in its Programme for Government that it is committed to reforming the planning system to deliver that ambitious target.

“The speed of the transition which we must undertake if we are to do so is unprecedented and Ministers must now take account of the need for the planning system, at all levels, to deliver consents for renewable energy schemes faster and in greater volumes than ever before.”

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