In a statement the Local Government Secretary, Greg Clark, said he was changing the rules to allow him to take over decisions on shale gas appeals.
He also set out how the government would identify what he described as councils which “underperformed” on determining oil and gas applications.
Mr Clark said in his statement: “I may want to give particular scrutiny to planning appeals for exploring and developing shale gas”.
Up to now, the Local Government Secretary has the right to decide a planning appeal if, among other reasons, the application may conflict with national policy, may have significant long-term impact on economic growth or could have significant effects beyond the immediate locality.
Today Mr Clark added to these criteria any proposals for exploring and developing shale gas. The change begins today and lasts for two years.
Cuadrilla’s appeals against the refusals of planning permission to frack in Lancashire may be among the first applications to be decided by the Secretary of State under the new rules.
Media reports said the company submitted appeals last week against the refusals of its applications to drill, frack and test up to eight wells at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road. So far, the fracking appeals have are not been listed on the Planning Inspectorate’s website.
Mr Clark also set out how the government would sanction councils that did not, in its view, decide applications quickly enough.
- Councils will be said to be underperforming if, over a two-year period, they decide 50% or fewer applications within the statutory time-limit (or an extended period agreed with the applicant)
- The statutory time limit is 13 weeks, or 16 weeks if an environmental impact assessment is needed
- Councils will be exempt if they decide no more than two applications over two years
- The first underperforming councils will be named in the final quarter of each year, starting in 2016.
- Once a council has been named as underperforming, the Local Government Secretary has the power to decide any oil and gas applications submitted to it for a year.
- Councils will have the right to set out exceptional circumstances that make identification as “underperforming” unreasonable.
- Data on councils’ performance on deciding oil and gas planning applications will be published quarterly. The first release will be on 22nd September 2015.
- The measures will be reviewed in 2019.
In August, ministers said there should be a “swift process for developing safe and suitable new sites” for shale gas exploitation.