UK to speed up shale gas planning decisions

Shale gas planning applications in the UK will be fast-tracked through a new, dedicated planning process, under measures announced Thursday.

Amber Rudd, energy and climate change secretary, and Greg Clark, communities secretary, announced plans that will ensure local people have a 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.

The measures include identifying councils that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within the 16-week statutory time frame, with subsequent applications potentially decided by the Communities Secretary.

“We need more secure, home grown energy supplies—and shale gas must play a part in that,” Rudd said. “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.”

The UK has made clear shale is a national priority, helping to move the country to a low-carbon economy. But ministers want to ensure that shale applications can’t be frustrated by slow and confused decision making amongst councils.

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.

The new measures 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.

As a quasi-judicial process, planning applications will always be considered with due process and a fair hearing, but the new measures will prevent long delays.

The 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 time frame requirement (unless applicants agree to a longer period). Under-performing councils’ gas and oil planning applications could be determined by the Communities SecretaryAdding 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 prioritized 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.

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