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21/05/2018

Shale gas development is of ‘national importance’

Words: Laura Edgar
James Brokenshire and Greg Clark

The housing and energy secretaries have issued a joint statement declaring that the development of shale gas is of ‘national importance’ and that mineral plans should not place restrictions on its extraction.

James Brokenshire and Greg Clark said the government expects mineral planning authorities to give “great weight” to the benefits of mineral extraction. “This includes shale gas exploration and extraction,” they explained.

Mineral plans should set out that applications must be assessed on a site-by-site basis.

Further, “plans should not set restrictions on thresholds across their plan area that limit shale development without proper justification”.

Once published, the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will sit alongside this written ministerial statement.

The government also plans to publish revised planning practice guidance on shale development once the NPPF has been published, “ensuring clarity on issues such as cumulative impact, local plan making and confirmation that planners can rely on the advice of regulatory experts”.

An early stage consultation will be held this summer, on whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration development should be treated as permitted development and the circumstances in which this might be appropriate. The government will also consult on “the criteria required to trigger the inclusion of shale production projects into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime”.

To support local authorities and build capacity so they can deal with shale development, Clark and Brokenshire launched a £1.6 million support fund. A new planning brokerage service will be created for shale applications that the statement says will “provide guidance to developers and local authorities on the planning process to help facilitate timely decision-making”.

They added that the service would not have a role in the appeals process.

The written ministerial statement, which applies to England only, can be found on the UK Parliament website.


Reaction:

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said: “Imported gas currently costs over £13 million a day – money that is not generating jobs or tax revenues in this country. To achieve greater home-grown energy production, Britain also needs a policy framework and a planning and permitting system that allows industries like ours to be able to get decisions within timescales that work for all concerned including the local communities we work in. This announcement goes some way to ensuring that our energy security is protected and the benefits we have already seen flowing into communities become much more widespread.”

John Galloway, planning and infrastructure associate at law firm Bircham Dyson Bell, said: “The joint ministerial statement will go a long way to reassure UK oil and gas companies that government support for the shale revolution is more than just words. It shows that the government is committed, and at a decision-making level planning authorities will be expected to consider the national importance of shale gas development.

“The delay to planning applications, even for early survey work and exploratory test drills, was in danger of slowing down the entire industry at a critical early stage. It is also likely that this statement has been made in response to pressure from local government, who have found themselves committing significant resources to these planning applications when their own budgets are under serious pressure.”

Jack Scott, cabinet member for transport and development at Sheffield City Council, said: “We need a revolution in renewable energy, not more dirty fossil fuels. But it is clear that the government wants to press on with a reckless dash for gas, regardless of evidence, public opinion or the impacts on local communities. This approach is an unwelcome mix of caving into the fracking industry and ploughing ahead with existing plans for fracking regardless of local views.

“Despite their empty words about local consultation, the government is setting a dangerous precedent in taking away local decision-making on planning decisions, and putting it in the hands of Tory ministers. This could see fracking unfairly imposed on areas against the will of local communities.”


Update:

Appearing before the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee on Monday (21 May), housing minister Dominic Raab said the proposed planning law changes, which could see fracking projects go through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime, would only be applied to applications at the production stage.


Image credit | UK Government

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