Just 10 days ago a consultation on central governments proposed revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) closed. Sutton Parish Council amongst other parish councils in the area dutifully responded to that consultation. Suttons response included comments on the proposals to fast track the current process adopted by Minerals Planning Authorities in the determination of applications involving unconventional hydrocarbons.
Planning authorities it was suggested in the proposals should “recognise the benefits of on-shore oil and gas development, including unconventional hydrocarbons, for the security of energy supplies and supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy; and put in place policies to facilitate their exploration and extraction.”
Now some 10 days later It would seem that Secretary of State Greg Clark is either an accomplished speed reader, has assimilated and disregarded the opinions and concerns of local councils and people, or more likely we think that his mind was already made up.
Clark announces in his written statement “a range of measures to facilitate timely decisions” in advance of a rehash of the the NPPF. Laughably, and this is the only element of Clarks “Dash for Gas” that is laughable the measures only apply to England. No wish to upset Nicola Sturgeon unduly, battling as she is with INEOS in the Scottish Courts and likely anyway that INEOS will make its mark there with its trump card, Grangemouth. Sturgeon is already queering Theresa May’s Brexit negotiating hand and more grief at the moment is not on the agenda. Not a lot of interest by the gas companies in the unconventional gas reserves in Wales and Northern Ireland, and we certainly do not wish to upset Arlene, that can be costly! So we will leave those three be, dealing with Nationalists is a lot harder than dealing with a few English protestors.
Clark’s announcement puts England, the north of England in particular, the Bowland Shale, us, in the fracking front line and vulnerable to the proposed liberalisation of planning and regulatory controls. With some political reverse alchemy the “Gold Standard of Regulations” will likely become the “Base Metal Standard” and exploratory drilling, including no doubt those fracked stages of less than 1,000 cubic metres will be allowed under permitted development.
Whatever your view on the development of unconventional hydrocarbons the tide has just turned against localism. Central government knows best, or perhaps is overly influenced by he who lobbies hardest and carries the biggest wad.
As for including shale gas as a National Significant Infrastructure Project, whereby decisions are taken by a government inspector, that will be the coup de grace for the principle of localism. For that reason alone protestors, those in favour of unconventional gas extraction and the silent majority who have yet to come to a decision might unite in despair.