The Week’s Top Energy News
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Shale gas planning applications are to be fast tracked under new government measures in an attempt to crack down on councils that take too long on decisions.
In a move that is most likely to face fierce opposition from environmental campaigners and some local communities, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd will write to planning authorities making it clear councils must rule on applications within the current 16-week statuary timeframe. Councils will be warned that if they repeatedly delay, ministers might take over. This would pass the central Government the power to decide all future applications in the local area.
The government says it will take local views into account, but the development of shale gas is a national priority that must be held up. The change comes after industry and government frustration over the slow rate of progress on exploratory fracking for shale gas in Lancashire. A bogged-down planning process resulted 16-month delays and a last-minute surprise rejection.
This announcement is less of a major change in planning law than a warning to local councils: ministers already have the power to take over the decision on any controversial planning application at any stage.
Energy Secretary Amber Rudd said: “We can’t have a planning system that sees applications dragged out for months, or even years… We need a system that delivers timely planning decisions and works effectively for local people and developers.”
Ministers have struggled to build public support for fracking with latest government poll on the topic showing opposition is increasing as support continues to fall.
Perhaps with an eye on such concerns, Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Communities, assured that “communities will always be involved in planning applications but no one benefits from uncertainty caused by delays in planning decisions. By fast tracking any appropriate applications today’s changes will tackle potential hold ups in the system.”
As noted, the statement doesn’t actually change any rules, instead acting as a statement of intent to get the process working more quickly. However, talk of “revising permitted development rights for drilling boreholes for groundwater monitoring” suggests that more significant changes may be expected.
But will business gas prices fall? Of course, any impact will only be felt over the medium to long term. In the short term, business gas rates can expected to be mostly unchanged, although unrest in Ukraine or a variety of other factors could cause business gas suppliers to hike their prices.
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