"Merton Rule" becomes law with Royal Assent for Fallon Bill
The Queen has added her signature to the Planning and Energy Bill - giving councils legal powers to require renewable energy systems for new buildings.
More than 100 local authorities around the country have already adopted the so-called "Merton Rule" - where construction firms advised that they want planning permission, they ought to include facilities for new buildings to generate their own energy.
The new legislation, which became a full Act of Parliament yesterday as its Royal Assent was confirmed, requires councils to set local targets for decentralised energy.
In order to meet those local energy targets, the Bill allows those councils to require developers to include within their plans technologies ranging from wind turbines and solar panels to heat pumps or biomass systems.
Local authorities will be free to require whatever level of renewable energy generation, though it is expected that a 10-15% level could be common.
There is no threshold within the Bill to allow smaller building projects to be exempt - although councils could decide to set such a threshold. Similarly, projects that propose renewable energy components of more than a local energy target level would not be prevented from doing so under the legislation.
Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon put the Bill forward as a Private Members Bill, and told New Energy Focus today that he was pleased it had finally achieved Royal Assent yesterday.
He said: "It's taken a year, including two debates in the House and five meetings with the Department. It's been a lot of hard work, but we managed to get a consensus behind the Bill along with the Liberal Democrats. Ministers changed throughout its progression, but the Bill survived."
It's not necessarily just on-site energy systems, it could also be near-site.
Mr Fallon said the Bill had only needed "minor" changes to get the government's ultimate approval, considering the consensus backing the project.
He said it was now up to individual councils to decide on what levels of decentralised energy to require new building projects to include. He said: "If you are going for 10% or 15%, it is up to them. It's not necessarily just on-site energy systems, it could also be near-site."
The government's Department for Communities and Local Government said the Planning and Energy Act is tied very closely to its own planning guidance published last year.
A spokesman for the Department told New Energy Focus today: "The Michael Fallon Bill enshrines the Merton principle in law, and the government supported this Bill so we're very pleased it got through.
"We have a Planning Policy Statement on Climate Change that we published last December which contained detailed guidance to local authorities on setting local energy targets. This Bill was complementary to that, making it a legal requirement for councils to set local targets."
The measures within the Planning and Energy Act have become known as the "Merton Rule" because of the first local authority to adopt planning guidance suggesting developers ought to inclure renewable energy systems in their plans.
The London Borough of Merton set its "Rule" based on the government's 2004 planning guidance, Planning Policy Statement 22, requiring a 10% level of on-site energy generation for local development projects.
The first project to comply with Merton's target was an industrial development at Willow Lane, Mitcham, which used small wind turbines and solar photopholtaic panels. Neighbouring Croydon became the next council to adopt the 10% target level, with others like North Devon setting slightly higher level of 15%.
Some councils like Richmond are already asking developers to push for even higher levels of renewable energy, of 20% or more, with Kirklees looking to set a 30% target for 2011.
Ultimately, the "Merton Rule" is seen as providing a middle step towards tough new requirements under the building regulations, which will require "zero carbon" domestic buildings from 2016, and commercial buildings from 2019.