The government has announced plans for shale gas planning applications to be fast-tracked through a new, dedicated planning process.
Councils that ‘repeatedly fail’ to determine oil and gas applications within the 16 week statutory timeframe will have the decision taken for them by the secretary of state at the Department for Communities & Local Government (GCLG).
At the same time, DCLG is drawing up plans to give planning authorities financial incentives to approve fracking applications.
The Civil Engineering Contractors Association supports fracking and welcomed the government’s proposals. CECA chief executive Alasdair Reisner said: “The start of the 21st century saw increased concern of an energy shortage. 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.”
Communities secretary Greg 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.”
Energy secretary Amber Rudd said that fracking was good for jobs and good for energy supply. “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,” she said.
She added that any risks associated with fracking would be properly managed. “Oversight by the Health & Safety Executive and the Environment Agency of shale developments makes our commitment to safety and the environment crystal clear,” she said.
Campaigners against fracking in Fylde, Lancashire, described the new planning regime as anti-democratic. “It’s also a recognition, by Cameron, that he has lost the argument – there is no social licence to frack – and that the only way he can ‘go all out for shale’ is by denying communities their basic democratic rights and forcing a shale gas industry on them,” said the Stop Fylde Fracking group. “Lancashire County Council worked extremely hard in coming to its decisions to reject Cuadrilla’s two planning applications – what right do ministers based in London have to overturn these decisions in order to favour the industry? Sixteen weeks is the normal time for planning applications. Amber Rudd needs to get her facts right – the delaying tactics in Lancashire were due to Cuadrilla requesting more time, not Lancashire County Council. Will the government turn down future requests for extensions by drilling companies? We doubt it.”