Ministerial statement rules out restrictions on fracking proposals without 'proper justification'

Shale gas development is 'of national importance', and mineral plans should not set restrictions on fracking proposals in their area without 'proper justification', according to a ministerial statement issued today.

Fracking: government says industry is 'of national importance'
Fracking: government says industry is 'of national importance'

A joint statement issued by business secretary Greg Clark and housing, communities and local government secretary James Brokenshire states that minerals local plans "should not set restrictions or thresholds across their plan area that limit shale development without proper justification".

"Shale gas development is of national importance," the joint statement says. "The government expects minerals planning authorities to give great weight to the benefits of mineral extraction, including to the economy."

The move is among a range of measures announced in the statement "to facilitate timely decisions" - "recent decisions on shale exploration planning applications remain disappointingly slow", it adds.  

To this end, the government will consult in the summer on the principle of whether shale exploration should be treated as permitted development, the statement says, and on "the criteria required to trigger the inclusion of shale production projects into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime".

To "strengthen community engagement", the government will also consult "in due course" on the "potential to make pre-application consultation a statutory requirement".

To assist with authorities building up capacity to deal with shale development, the statement announces the launch of a new £1.6 million shale support fund over the next two years.

The government will continue to treat fracking-related appeals "as a priority for urgent determination by the Planning Inspectorate making additional resources available where necessary", it adds.

Meanwhile, the procedure whereby the secretary of state recovers fracking-related appeals - which was put in place in 2015 - will be extended for a further two years following a review.

The statement goes on to say the government will work with the shale gas industry to see if the offer to make "set payments" to affected communities of "up to £10 million for a typical site" can be improved.

"We strongly believe that communities hosting shale gas developments should share in the financial returns they generate," the ministers said.

The new measures would apply in England only, it adds.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), welcomed the statement. "This country needs a diverse supply of energy which protects and secures UK jobs and UK taxes," he said.

"Today’s announcement goes some way to ensuring that our energy security is protected and the benefits we have already seen flowing into communities become much more widespread."

But Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas labelled the statement "absolutely shocking".

"The government has today announced a range of measures to make fracking easier," she tweeted.

"This announcement is a green light for climate breakdown. We need to be keeping gas in the ground, and investing in renewables."

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