Councils told to fast track fracking

Ministers today told councils to fast-track applications for shale gas exploration or face losing the right to make future decisions.

In a joint statement, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd and Communities Secretary Greg Clark announced a series of new measures to speed up the planning process.

The measures include identifying any councils that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within the 16 week statutory time frame. 

Any council which fails to make decisions in that time frame could potentially lose the right to make subsequent applications, which will be handed over to the Communities Secretary.

Ministers will also consider calling in any application for shale exploration, and will recover appeals on a case-by-case basis.

Today’s announcement follows a series of delays and deferments by Lancashire County Council over two planning applications by the energy firm Cuadrilla.

The county council was originally due to reach a decision on the applications in January, but eventually rejected both applications last month (July).

Cuadrilla later confirmed it will appeal against both decisions.

“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,” said Ms Rudd.

“Oversight by the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency of shale developments makes our commitment to safety and the environment crystal clear. We now need, above all else, a system that delivers timely planning decisions and works effectively for local people and developers.”

The measures also include adding shale applications as a specific criterion for recovery of appeals, to ensure no application can ‘fall through the cracks’.

And planning call ins and appeals involving shale applications are to be prioritised by the Planning Inspectorate.

Mr Clark added: “By fast tracking any appropriate applications today’s changes will tackle potential hold ups in the system.”

But Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint accused the Government of “denying local communities a say” in whether fracking should go ahead in their area.

“In June they issued planning guidance giving local residents ‘the final say’ over wind farm applications,” said Ms Flint. “However, when it comes to shale gas, they are saying the Secretary of State should have ‘the final say’ and are clearly guilty of double-standards.

“Despite talk of localism, they have taken the extraordinary step of saying the Secretary of State knows best. This will make it harder for them to gain public confidence. The Government urgently needs to put in place the rigorous safeguards we have been calling for to ensure that any extraction that goes ahead is done safely.”

Jamie Hailstone is a freelance journalist and author, specializing in local government, transport and energy issues