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UK Shale Gas Exploration and the Planning Regime

  • United Kingdom
  • Parliamentary
  • Energy and infrastructure

17-05-2018

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government have issued a joint Statement on shale gas exploration. 

The statement (details of which can be found here) is directed at changing the planning regime to facilitate developments; speeding-up decision-making; supporting mineral planning authorities where appropriate; and streamlining the regulatory regime.


Planning Policy
The Statement is a material consideration in taking decisions on applications and in plan-making.

Mineral planning authorities are directed as follows:

  • Shale gas development is of national importance.
  • Great weight should be given to the benefits of mineral extraction, which includes shale gas exploration and extraction.
  • Shale development is not to be restricted in development plans without proper justification.
  • Relevant definitions of hydrocarbons, natural gas and associated hydraulic fracturing are set out in legislation.
  • Reference should be had to current Planning Practice Guidance. This will be updated once the revised National Planning Policy Framework has been published.

Mineral planning authorities are to be supported, through the launch of a new £1.6 million shale support fund. The money will be available over the next two years to build capacity and capability within the planning authorities. Further support is to be made available in the form of a new planning brokerage service to provide guidance to mineral planning authorities on the planning process, with the aim of enabling timely decision-making. The brokerage service will also be available to developers.


Speed of decision making
The Statement expresses disappointment with the time taken on recent shale exploration planning applications. Appeals relating to shale gas continue to be a priority for urgent determination. The exploration and development of shale gas will continue to be a criterion for the recovery of appeals. Active consideration will still be given to calling-in shale applications but with a particular focus on those applications where statutory decision-making deadlines have not been met.

There is continuing commitment to identifying underperforming authorities and consideration of whether an application to any such authority should instead be determined by the Secretary of State.


Shale Gas Regulator
Acknowledging the complexity of the regulatory regime, the Statement announces the establishment of a Shale Gas Regulator. This body will bring regulatory authorities together to act as a single body and point of contact for mineral planning authorities, developers and the public.

This regulatory body is to be established in the coming summer months.


Summer consultations
Two key consultations are slated for the near future: (1) the principle of whether shale exploration that does not involve hydraulic fracturing should be treated as permitted development and in what circumstances; and (2) the criteria required to trigger the inclusion of shale production projects as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects subject to the Planning Act regime.

A consultation on the potential to make pre-application consultation a statutory requirement will follow “in due course”.


So…what is new?
What, if anything, has changed from the planning policy position expressed in the September 2015 Statement? Much of this current Statement reiterates or continues commitments made in its predecessor.

The expression of planning policy has been strengthened in the statement of shale gas as being of national importance. There is no change to the measures taken to speed up decision-making but this Statement includes a commitment to make additional resources available where necessary, in order to give shale gas appeals priority for urgent determination.


For communities
There is a Government commitment to work with the industry to improve its current commitment on payments to be made to local communities. The Autumn Statement 2016 announcement of additional resources for communities through the Shale Wealth Fund is also noted.

Finally, it is interesting to note the timing of this release: just a few days before the respective Ministers are scheduled to give oral evidence before the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, currently conducting an inquiry on ‘Planning Guidance for fracking’.