Breaking: Northern Ireland to require full planning applications for oil and gas exploration

Chris Hazard

Northern Ireland’s Minister for Infrastructure, Chris Hazard, has announced he proposes to require oil and gas companies to make full planning applications for exploration.

Under certain conditions operators can drill without an application under permitted development rights.

Speaking during a debate this evening about oil exploration by InfraStrata’s at Woodburn Forest in East Antrim, Mr Hazard said:

“I have decided to propose a change to the current legislation, policy and procedures in relation to mineral exploration.”

“I propose to remove permitted development rights for oil and gas exploration. In the future, under my proposals, exploration for oil and gas will require the submission of a planning application and will be subject to the full rigours of the planning process, including environmental impact assessments (EIA) and public consultation. I intend to consult on the legislative change shortly.”

Transparency, fairness and accountable decision-making are fundamental to the process, he says.

Mr Hazard said InfraStrata’s operation near a drinking water reservoir supplying Belfast had been carried out under permitted development rights, without a planning application.It had led to “significant public concern”, he said, and highlighted the need for a change to the planning system.

He said:

“The planning system should, where possible, facilitate development, but it must not compromise on environmental standards.”

But he added that transparency, fairness and accountable decision-making were fundamental to the process.

He said he wanted to facilitate sustainable minerals development but it must be balanced with environmental protection and compliance with all environmental regulations.

A Sinn Fein motion had called on the assembly to note concern about InfraStrata’s operation and to prevent approval of applications like it until assurances were secured against “any negative potential impacts on water supply, the environment, tourism and local communities”.

The motion was approved without a vote.

Live updates from the debate

Updated quotes on 7/5/2016 with reference to Hansard

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