Manufacturing and engineering firms welcome fast tracked fracking

Government has stepped in to accelerate the planning process for shale gas exploration this week by introducing new measures to ensure councils make planning decisions within 16 weeks.

Shale gas is contained in rock at around 3000m below ground level

New powers will be given to the Communities Secretary to call in shale gas planning applications as well as recover appeals. The government will also be able to take decision making away from councils who fail to make decisions within the 16 week timescale.

The move was welcomed by engineering and manufacturing organisations who said that the current regulatory system had slowed down potential development.“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," said Paul Raynes, Director of Policy at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation.

"Desperately needed reform was frustratingly 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.” 

Dr Jennifer Baxter, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said that it was important that Government stepped up efforts to move the UK's energy future away from coal.

"Desperately needed reform was frustratingly slow during the last parliament, but the new government has grasped the nettle and shown it is serious about the issue" Paul Raynes, EEF

"Gas, and in this case shale gas, provides an alternative that will have a real impact on reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, a vital part of ensuring a joined up approach to creating our 21st century energy infrastructure is ensuring local planning committees have the tools and information to make decisions for their communities," she said.

“The Government must create an environment whereby local authorities are equipped to deal with decision making on large energy infrastructure and engineering projects.  This could be achieved through collaborative policy making and the provision of easy to understand information about fracking engineering processes and risks."

Measures announced include the Communities Secretary actively considering calling in shale planning applications on a case by case basis and considering recovering appeals; identifying councils that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within the 16 week statutory timeframe requirement (unless applicants agree to a longer period); underperforming councils’ gas and oil planning applications could be determined by the Communities Secretary; adding shale applications as a specific criterion for recovery of appeals, to ensure no application can ‘fall through the cracks. Ensuring planning call ins and appeals involving shale applications are prioritised by the Planning Inspectorate; and taking forward work on revising permitted development rights for drilling boreholes for groundwater monitoring.

The announcement was made following a drawn out planning process in Lancashire which saw energy company Cuadrilla have two planning applications refused five months later than originally expected. A decision was scheduled to be made in January but this was delayed until the end of June. Cuadrilla says it will appeal 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. 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,” said Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd making the announcement.

Earlier this week Rudd had warned of the changes in a letter to the Sunday Times where she underlined the importance of natural gas in meeting UK energy demand explaining that it accounts for a third of generation. She said with UK set to import 75% of oil and gas by 2030 the country needs more home-grown energy supplies and shale gas must play a part in that. 

"Having a choice of where we get our energy, including producing our own at home wherever we can, is the best way to make sure we’re secure. It’s down to us to make the most of our own energy reserves and to get the best deal for Britain. Just as 60 years ago there were concerns about going into the North Sea to explore for oil and gas, today we are faced with a similar debate around shale gas. But we are in a different place from 60 years ago, we are building on the record and experience that comes with decades of developing our industries while also protecting the environment and the safety of our workforce."

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