Shale gas planning applications to be fast-tracked
Planning applications for the controversial process of shale gas exploration will be now subject to a new dedicated planning process that aims to deliver faster decision-making, it was announced today (13 August).
Energy Secretary Amber Rudd and Communities Secretary Greg Clark jointly announced the new planning permission rules today, which they maintained will still ensure local people have a ‘strong say’ over the development of shale exploration in their area but will deliver ‘swift’ decisions on developments for businesses.
Under the measures included in the plans, councils that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within the 16-week statutory timeframe will be identified, with subsequent applications in those authorities potentially decided by central government instead.
Ministers will also be able to call in any application for shale exploration, and will recover appeals on a case-by-case basis.
In addition, the Planning Inspectorate will prioritise planning call-ins and appeals involving shale applications.
Central government also stated that proposals will be published later in the year on the design of a new sovereign wealth fund that will allow communities hosting shale gas developments to share in the financial returns they generate.
‘Fast-tracking will enable industry to get up-and-running’
Energy Secretary Amber Rudd said: “As a One Nation Government, we are backing the safe development of shale gas because it’s good for jobs giving hardworking people and their families more financial security, good for our energy security and part of our plan to decarbonise the economy.
“We need more secure, home grown energy supplies – and shale gas must play a part in that.
“To ensure we get this industry up and running we can’t have a planning system that sees applications dragged out for months, or even years on end. Oversight by the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency of shale developments makes our commitment to safety and the environment crystal clear. We now need, above all else, a system that delivers timely planning decisions and works effectively for local people and developers.”
Communities Secretary Greg Clark added: “There is huge potential right across the country for safe and sustainable use of shale gas, to provide a clean long term energy source and create British jobs and growth.
“People’s safety and the environment will remain paramount and communities will always be involved in planning applications but no one benefits from uncertainty caused by delays in planning decisions. By fast tracking any appropriate applications today’s changes will tackle potential hold ups in the system.”
‘Government that is intent on driving through fracking at whatever cost’
Following the announcement this morning, several environmental organisations – many of whom have previously warned that shale gas exploration and its recovery via hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a process in which water and chemicals are used to blast open rocks and release natural shale gas, could damage the environment, trigger earthquakes and potentially contaminate drinking water with methane and toxic chemicals – have criticised the move.
Responding to news that the government is attempting to ‘fast-track’ fracking applications through the planning system, Friends of the Earth Planning Advisor Naomi Luhde-Thompson said: “Bulldozing fracking applications through the planning system, against the wishes of local people and councils, will simply fan the flames of mistrust and opposition.
“Local authorities have been following the rules. These changes are being made because the government doesn’t agree with the democratic decisions councils have been making.
“It’s no wonder fracking’s unpopular when even the frackers admit that it is unlikely to cut energy prices. It also threatens house prices and the environment of local communities and will cause more climate change.
“Rather than riding roughshod over local democracy to suit the interests of a dirty industry, ministers should champion real solutions to the energy challenges we face, such as boosting the UK’s huge renewable power potential and cutting energy waste.”
Daisy Sands, Head of Energy Campaign at Greenpeace, added: “The contrast between Greg Clark's view that local councils should be 'masters of their own destiny' and the new provisions announced today is staggering. Local residents could end up with virtually no say over whether their homes, communities and national parks are fracked or not.
"There is a clear double standard at play - the same government that is intent on driving through fracking at whatever cost has just given more powers to local councils to oppose wind farms, the cheapest source of clean energy. People who love and live in the countryside and who care about climate change will not stand for a government which is riding roughshod over democracy to industrialise our most beautiful landscapes and damage the climate."
Other notable opponents of fracking include former Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas, who was arrested in 2013 under the Public Order Act for demonstrating outside the gates of energy firm Cuadrilla's oil drilling site in Balcombe in opposition to their plans to frack. The oil company's plans to frack in Balcombe were later withdrawn.