Government announces plans to fast-track local fracking bids

Following new planning guidelines, local authorities will be given a period of 16 weeks to rule on planning applications around shale gas projects.

After which, if failing to comply, the decision will be put in the hands of ministers.

Today’s measures target councils that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within the 16 week statutory timeframe and allow subsequent applications to be potentially decided by the Communities Secretary. Ministers will consider calling in any application for shale exploration and will recover appeals on a case-by-case basis.

The decision follows Lancashire County Council’s recent rejection of Cuadrilla’s shale gas applications after more than a year of stalemate deliberations.

Energy secretary, Amber Rudd.
Energy secretary, Amber Rudd.

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd and Communities Secretary Greg Clark announced plans that will ensure locals will play a pivotal role over the development of shale exploration of their area, but will also ensure communities and the industry benefit from a lean process for developing safe and suitable new sites.

Secretary Rudd added: “As a One Nation Government, we are backing the safe development of shale gas because it’s good for jobs and for giving hardworking people and their families more financial security, and 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.”

While the Government has made clear shale is a national priority which can help to move the UK to a low-carbon economy, local protestors flagged the decision as a “government mockery” following the promise to give more power to local people.

UKOOG, the representative body for the UK’s onshore oil and gas industry, has welcomed the announcement on planning decisions. Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, said: “The onshore oil and gas industry is committed to consulting and working with local communities to develop the gas resources that this country desperately needs to access. However, 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 [in] the interests of local people, the industry, or indeed the British people.”

“With over four in five of our homes using gas for heating and cooking, with gas being used by our manufacturing industries to make essential products and with over 80% of our gas predicted to come from overseas by 2030, it is essential that this country develops sources of this essential energy resource that is below our feet,” he added.

Paul Raynes, director of policy at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “Today’s announcement is a clear demonstration from government that it intends to hit the ground running and get a UK shale gas industry moving. 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. Desperately needed reform was frustrating slow during the last parliament, but the new government has grasped the nettle and shown it is serious about the issue. Today’s announcement respects democracy and community engagement, and is also good for energy security, good for growth and good for the UK.”