Government could push through fracking applications if councils delay

Fracking planing applications that are being held up by local councils could be fast-tracked by Government, following new measures announced today by Energy Secretary Amber Rudd and Communities Secretary Greg Clark.

The Government says the new planning measures will still allow local people to have a say over shale exploration, but with the caveat that drilling companies can move more quickly to develop on the sites.

The new policy will also allow the Communities Secretary to overrule councils which take more than 16 weeks to decide on applications for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Shale potential

Communities Secretary Clark said: “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.”

The announcement by the Government said shale gas is a national priority for helping the UK move to a low-carbon economy. The moves to speed up the planning process are to avoid ‘slow and confused’ decision-making by councils.

The measures state that councils, which are ‘underperforming’ on oil and gas planning applications, could see Clark step in and determine the decision.

The new policy follows Cuadrilla’s drawn-out application for drilling in Lancashire. The oil and gas company had two fracking applications turned down and are now appealing the decision, a process which could take years. The planning application for test drilling was turned down following sustained pressure from local residents and green campaigners.

Safety commitment

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd said shale gas would help develop jobs and benefit families by improving energy security.

“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,” said Rudd.

“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.”

The announcement comes after Rudd announced the plans in a blog for the Department of Energy and Climate Change at the weekend, urging local councils to allow exploration for shale in a “sustainable and timely way”.

Industry backing

The move to streamline the planning process was welcomed by EEF, the manufacturing industry organisation. EEF director of policy Greg Barker said: “It has been obvious for quite some time that the regulatory quagmire that industry had to wade through was acting as a wholly unnecessary brake on development in the sector.”

UKOOG, the UK’s onshore oil and gas body, also welcomed the decision. Chief executive Ken Cronin said: “Recent experience has shown that the planning process is unwieldy and the time taken for planning decisions has soared from three months to over a year, causing delay and cost and this is not the interests of local people, the industry, or indeed the British people.

Fracking has been repeatedly held up over safety concerns, both to the environment and public health. A recent report from the Task Force on Shale Gas said the process was safe providing it was subject to “rigorous regulation and monitoring”.

Bulldozer planning

Recent Government surveys have found just 21% of people in the UK support fracking, while around 28% said they opposed the method.

Friends of the Earth planning advisor Naomi Luhde-Thompson accused the Government of “bulldozing fracking applications through the planning systems”.

She said: “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.”

Matt Field

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