Rudd rolls out new rules for faster UK shale gas planning applications

Amber Rudd, UK Minister for Energy
Amber Rudd, UK Minister for Energy

UK shale gas planning applications will now be fast-tracked through a new, dedicated planning process under new rules announced by the UK government – as exclusively revealed earlier today by Scottish Energy News.

UK Energy minister Amber Rudd formally announced plans that will ensure local people have a strong say over the development of shale exploration in their area – but will ensure communities and the industry benefit from a swift process for developing safe and suitable new sites.

See also: Shale energy industry welcomes UK Govt plan for fast-tracking fracking applications

These measures include identifying councils that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within the 16 week statutory timeframe, with subsequent applications potentially decided by the Communities Secretary (in England only).

The Scottish government has imposed a temporary moratorium on shale gas development applications.

Energy and climate change 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.

“The government has made clear shale is a national priority, helping to move the UK to a low-carbon economy. But ministers want to ensure shale applications can’t be frustrated by slow and confused decision making amongst councils, which benefits no one.

If planning applications for shale exploration developments take months or even years it can create uncertainty for communities and prevent the development of a potentially vital national industry.

These measures will mean ministers will consider calling-in any application for shale exploration, and will recover appeals on a case-by-case basis.

Local communities will remain fully involved in planning decisions with any shale application – whether decided by councils or government. And demanding planning rules to ensure shale development happens only at appropriate sites remain unchanged.

On top of this, strong safety and environmental safeguards are also already in place through the regulatory regime to ensure shale exploration and extraction is safe and only happens in appropriate places.

As a quasi-judicial process planning applications will always be considered with due process and a fair hearing – but today’s measures will prevent the long delays that mean uncertainty both for business and for local residents.

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The ‘fast-track’ measures include:

  • The Communities Secretary actively considering calling in on a case by case basis shale planning applications and considering recovering appeals
  • Identifying councils that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within the 16 week statutory timeframe requirement (unless applicants agree to a longer period). Underperforming councils’ gas and oil planning applications could be determined by the Communities Secretary
  • Adding shale applications as a specific criterion for recovery of appeals, to ensure no application can ‘fall through the cracks’
  • Ensuring planning call-ins and appeals involving shale applications are prioritised by the Planning Inspectorate
  • Taking forward work on revising permitted development rights for drilling boreholes for groundwater monitoring.
  • The government also believes that communities hosting shale gas developments should share in the financial returns they generate, and will be presenting proposals later in the year on the design of a new sovereign wealth fund.

Greg Clark, the Communities Secretary for England, 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.”

But Paul McCullagh, Chief Executive of Glasgow-based  renewable energy company UrbanWind, said the Government is ‘totally out of step’ with public opinion.

He commented: The Department for Energy’s (DECC) own public attitudes tracker revealed just weeks ago that public support for fracking has fallen to its lowest ever level, with just 3% of respondents indicating they strongly support the technique.

“By comparison, 59% indicated their support for onshore wind, and an even higher percentage backed solar.  This illustrates just how out of touch Amber Rudd is with the British public’s opinion.

“The Government needs to provide the same level of support for renewable technology, and the carbon reduction benefits it offers, that it enjoys from the general public.”

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