Last edited 02 Feb 2021

Fast track shale gas planning applications

On 13 August 2015, the government announced that shale gas planning applications in England would be fast-tracked through a new, dedicated planning process. Ref

This means that where local authorities repeatedly fail to determine applications within the 16 week statutory timeframe, subsequent applications may be decided by the Communities Secretary (unless a different timeframe has been agreed by the applicant).

The government believes that expanding shale gas development (sometimes referred to as fracking) is a priority in the move to a low-carbon economy but that it is in danger of being ‘…frustrated by slow and confused decision making amongst councils’. They argue that when planning applications take months or even years to determine it creates uncertainty for communities and prevents the development of a vital national industry.

The announcement will allow ministers to call in applications and recover appeals on a case-by-case basis. Local communities will remain involved in the decision-making process whether an application is decided by the local authority or by central government. Measures will also be taken to ensure planning call ins and appeals involving shale applications are prioritised by the Planning Inspectorate.

Energy and climate change Secretary Amber Rudd said: “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."

Communities Secretary Greg Clark said, “… 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."

Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) chief executive Alasdair Reisner said, “CECA has long argued that the UK government must commit to a long-term UK energy strategy which does not deter badly needed investment and today's announcement takes further steps towards this. We believe that effective management of shale gas extraction through the implementation of operational best practice, robustly enforced through regulation, has a key role to play in the energy mix of the future.”

However, Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services at Lancashire County Council, said, “I can see what the direction of travel is: it’s to remove local determinism, and the right of local people to have a say,”

Nick Clack from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said, “These changes, which could see Government taking more decisions away from local people, won’t help to persuade them and could fuel division and disempowerment. It sounds disingenuous for the Government to claim that local communities will remain fully involved in shale gas and oil planning decisions if these decisions are ultimately taken by ministers.”

On 16 September 2015, a further written ministerial statement, was published by Greg Clark, The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, highlighting how the Department for Communities and Local Government will ensure local planning authorities speed up shale, gas and oil casework. Ref Planning for Onshore Oil and Gas.

NB In May 2018, the government announced a consultation about whether the early stages of shale exploration (fracking) should be treated as permitted development, and the circumstances in which this might be appropriate. Ref

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