RTPI criticises 'creep' of permitted development rights in shale gas warning

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has slammed government proposals to extend permitted development (PD) rights to shale gas exploration, warning about the 'creep' of such relaxed PD rules to ease planning controls.

A shale gas fracking rig in the US
A shale gas fracking rig in the US

In July, the government launched a consultation into the proposal to extend PD rights for exploratory non-fracking shale gas development in England only, which would mean such schemes would not require planning permission.

In its response to the consultation, which closed last week, the RTPI said that the scale and complexity of exploratory shale gas drilling "entirely dwarfs" development normally covered by PD rights.

Richard Blyth, RTPI head of policy and research, said: "We are concerned about the creep of permitted development rights and its application to shale gas exploration is particularly worrying.

"The government’s own proposal for a large range of conditions to be put around PD for them to work already proves that PD is not appropriate.

"Capacity and costs implications for local planning teams aside, we do not agree that control of such significant developments should bypass a proper, local, professional and democratic process." 

The RTPI's formal response criticised the increased use of PD as a means to pursue government policy since 2010.

It said: "This is a departure from what permitted development was established to achieve and how it has operated successfully for many decades.

"The use of employment premises for homes has been a decidedly mixed blessing despite its apparent high contribution to headline housing numbers.

"There is a proper process for government policy to be pursued, and that is the National Planning Policy Framework." 

Under government proposals, companies exploring shale gas would still need to give prior notification to the local authority before they can start on site, with fees estimated to be about £200 per notification, according to the RTPI.

This amount is "wholly insufficient to cover the amount of work [councils] need to do to make exploration safe and satisfactory", said the RTPI.

Blyth said: "Ultimately, PD in this context is a false economy – the prior notification process will either take so long that it ends up as protracted as a planning application, or it is done so scantily that it fails to make the proper safeguards and provokes community objections."

Last week, the government launched a separate consultation on handing shale gas fracking firms a mandatory requirement to consult with communities before submitting planning applications.

Proposals to shake up the planning regime for shale gas development were first trailed in a written ministerial statement issued by business secretary Greg Clark in May.

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