New shale gas planning powers will not bypass local concerns, Raab tells MPs

The planning minister has moved to reassure MPs that new proposed powers to speed up shale gas decisions will still take local concerns into account.

Reassuring concerns: housing and planning minister Dominic Raab
Reassuring concerns: housing and planning minister Dominic Raab

Last week, business secretary Greg Clark and housing, communities and local government secretary James Brokenshire issued a joint written ministerial statement announcing a range of measures "to facilitate timely decisions" on shale exploration planning applications.

The measures included consulting on whether shale exploration should be treated as permitted development (PD) and whether shale production projects should be included in the nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP) regime.

Yesterday, the housing, communities and local government select committee questioned housing and planning minister Dominic Raab and energy minister Claire Perry on whether local authorities needed new planning guidance on fracking.

Asked whether the proposal to extend PD rights to shale exploration represented an erosion of local control, Raab said: "Where we have got established permitted development rights already, there is often a prior approval process, and that can be set out as a condition to many of the rights. That’s one of the key aspects we want to look at to give those that share those concerns some reassurance."

He added: "It’s worth noting that a development that requires an environmental impact assessment can not be subjected to a permitted development right."

Raab said that the government wants to "make sure we have a regime that deals with the national priority we are putting on this, but also takes into account those local concerns".

Should fracking be brought within the NSIP regime, Raab said this would only apply at the production stage, and not at the exploratory stage.

"[Under NSIP] there are comprehensive legal requirements to make sure that local authorities and local communities can have a say," he said. "It’s a system that has been tried and tested."

Perry said that the NSIP regime would provide "predictability", adding that consulting on the "trigger point for an application or group of applications to go into this is really important".

Raab added: "One of the aims of the 2018 written ministerial statement is to facilitate speedy decisions. We’ve had seven applications for shale gas exploration where decisions have been taken. They took between 17 to 83 weeks to get to a decision. That gives you the basis for our concern to make sure we’ve got a more efficient process in place."

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