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Leaked government letter suggests bringing fracking under NSIP regime

Words: Laura Edgar

Ministers have reportedly discussed bringing fracking applications under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime, according to a government letter leaked to anti-fracking campaigners.

The letter was published in the Sunday Telegraph after being leaked to Friends of the Earth.

Communities secretary Greg Clark, energy secretary Amber Rudd and environment secretary Elizabeth Truss put their names to a scheme that would see fracking classified as nationally significant infrastructure and therefore falling under the NSIP regime.

The letter sets out proposals for a shale gas strategy, including:

  • Developing a “clear and persuasive narrative” which demonstrates why the potential that shale represents is “so important to our future energy security” and “can be done safely;

  • The development and implementation on an “ambitious cross-government programme of communications and outreach to influence key opinion formers, decision makers and civic leaders”; and

 • A clear assessment of the barriers industry faces and what the government can do to mitigate them.

The letter also states that as well as “improving the current planning system,” it is “important” that there is a long-term approach to planning that is “suitable for handling the large number of applications that would be seen in a full production phase”.

“We are therefore minded to bring commercial shale production within the NSIP regime, and to begin the move from early 2016 for large-scale applications”.

Friends of the Earth has expressed concerns that although local councils would be involved, “the role of local people would be little more than deciding on the colour of the gates to the site”.

Tony Bosworth, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: “Any move to take decision-making on fracking away from local councils and railroad it through would be another serious attack on democracy, and a sure sign that the government has lost the argument.”

In a statement a government spokesman said: “We are backing shale because it’s good for our energy security and will help create jobs and growth. We need to press ahead and get exploration under way so that we can determine how much shale gas there is and how much we can use.

“Ministers have made very clear that communities will always be involved in planning applications and people’s safety and the environment will remain paramount.”

In August 2015, Clark and Rudd revealed plans to accelerate shale gas planning applications through a new dedicated planning process. This announcement comes after the date on the leaked letter, 7 July, 2015.