Mark H Durkan included a presumption against unconventional hydrocarbon extraction in the Strategic Planning Policy Statement, a new guide for the planning system.
Launching the document, Mr Durkan said:
“Significantly for the first time, no to fracking is actually enshrined in policy unless there is sufficient and robust evidence of its safety on all environmental impacts. I believe this is a sensible and reasonable approach.”
The SSPS consolidates more than 800 pages of existing policy into a single document.
In the section on regional strategic policy, the document deals with mineral developments. It said:
“In relation to unconventional hydrocarbon extraction there should be a presumption against their exploitation until there is sufficient and robust evidence on all environmental impacts.”
Unlike the statement, the SSPS uses the word “until”, rather than “unless”, possibly leaving the way open for planning permissions for fracking in Northern Ireland.
The document also said minerals development would not normally be granted permission if it “prejudiced the essential character” of an area protected for its landscape, or scientific or natural heritage.
Planning authorities would be allowed to consider exceptions to the presumption against minerals extraction in areas protected from minerals development. But these exceptions would not apply to applications for fracking.
The SSPS also said
“Minerals development likely to compromise safety or to significantly impair the amenity of people living or working in proximity to the site will not normally be acceptable.”
“Such adverse impacts could result from noise, vibration and dust arising through excavation, processing or transporting of materials.”
Planning permission would also not be granted if traffic from a minerals proposal prejudiced the safety and convenience of road users, unless the road network could be improved.
The Democratic Unionist MP, Sammy Wilson, has described the presumption against fracking as “totally illegal”. He told the Belfast Telegraph the policy would be overturned by the Northern Ireland Executive. He said:
“For the minister to make such a policy statement without referring it to the Executive is totally illegal.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland Head of Campaigns Mary Church told BlueAndGreenTomorrow.com
“Northern Ireland’s vibrant and diverse anti-fracking campaign will be delighted with the formal adoption of this precautionary approach to fracking from the Environment Minister. This presumption against the development of all unconventional fossil fuels is yet another blow to the industry in these islands.”
“Well done to our colleagues in Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland and all those who’ve fought this dirty, dangerous industry across the Irish Sea.”
Updated 29/9/15 to include quote from Sammy Wilson