The government has made changes to national planning policy on onshore oil and gas even though most of the people who took part in a consultation disagreed with them.
The revised National Planning Policy Framework, published yesterday, requires English councils to recognise what are described as the benefits of onshore hydrocarbons, including shale gas, for energy security and transition to a low carbon economy.
Councils are also required to “put in place policies to facilitate their [onshore hydrocarbons] exploration and extraction” and “plan positively for them”.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is used by planners and council committees in England to decide on planning applications and draw up local plans.
The government said in its response to the consultation on oil and gas changes:
“There was limited support for the inclusion in the Framework of policies for the exploration and extraction of oil, gas and unconventional hydrocarbons (which includes shale), with most responses objecting to potential shale development as a matter of principle.”
Although no shale gas is currently being extracted in England, the government response continued:
“Shale gas, which plays a key role in ensuring energy security, is of national importance.
“The Government is committed to explore and develop our shale gas resources in a safe and sustainable way. We have therefore carried forward this policy in the Framework, which would apply having regard to the policies of the Framework as a whole.”
Nearly 1,000 people or organisations responded to the proposed changes on minerals policy.
The government said:
“Individuals and some interest groups disagreed with policies relating to oil and gas development, including unconventional hydrocarbons. These groups considered that these polices should be omitted due to disagreement with the principle of fossil fuels, shale development, and fracking.
“Some individuals considered policy to be unbalanced towards the economic benefits of mineral development and stated that equal weight should be given to economic, social and environmental considerations.”
Key NPPF changes on oil and gas
New clause on benefits
The revised NPPF added a new clause (paragraph 209a):
“Mineral planning authorities 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;”
The revised NPPF (paragraph 209b) said Mineral planning authorities should:
“when planning for on-shore oil and gas development, clearly distinguish between, and plan positively for, the three phases of development (exploration, appraisal and production)”
The previous version (paragraph 147) said just:
“Mineral planning authorities should when planning for on-shore oil and gas development, including unconventional hydrocarbons, clearly distinguish between the three phases of development (exploration, appraisal and production)”
“Provide for appropriate monitoring”
The revised paragraph 209b also requires of mineral planning authorities:
“ensuring appropriate monitoring and site restoration is provided for;”
This replaces a requirement in the previous version to:
“address constraints on production and processing within areas that are licensed for oil and gas exploration or production.”
Unacceptable adverse impacts
The previous version of the NPPF (paragraph 143) listed some of the unacceptable adverse impacts that planning authorities should avoid. It said in preparing Local Plans, local planning authorities should:
“set out environmental criteria, in line with the policies in this Framework, against which planning applications will be assessed so as to ensure that permitted operations do not have unacceptable adverse impacts on the natural and historic environment or human health, including from noise, dust, visual intrusion, traffic, tip- and quarry-slope stability, differential settlement of quarry backfill, mining subsidence, increased flood risk, impacts on the flow and quantity of surface and groundwater and migration of contamination from the site; and take into account the cumulative effects of multiple impacts from individual sites and/or a number of sites in a locality.”
The revised version (part of paragraph 204) has dropped the list of impacts and said just:
“Planning policies should set out criteria or requirements to ensure that permitted and proposed operations do not have unacceptable adverse impacts on the natural and historic environment or human health, taking into account the cumulative effects of multiple impacts from individual sites and/or a number of sites in a locality.”
Minerals remain in the NPPF
The government had asked whether planning policy on minerals would be better contained in a separate document.
Of the 838 responses, only 19% supported this, while 62% opposed. The document said:
“A large number of individuals raised concerns that removing policies from the
Framework would encourage fracking and would take away control of mineral
production from local authorities.”
The government said minerals would remain in the framework. It said this would allow minerals (which also include coal, aggregates, sand, clay etc) to be considered alongside other landuse planning policies.
More planning changes
Yesterday’s announcement came on the final day of parliament, before the summer recess.
The consultation on the NPPF changes began in March 2018, before the announcement of other planning changes made in joint written ministerial statements in May 2018.
These proposed making non-fracking shale gas applications permitted development (without the need to apply for planning permission) and classifying major production applications Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, to be decided by the Secretary of State.
A consultation on these changes continues until October 2018.
Responding to the NPPF changes, Kate Gordon, Friends of the Earth senior planner, said:
“What we build, and how we build it – from new homes to power stations – has an impact on our health, our lives and the environment around us.
“The new planning rulebook was a chance to put an end to dirty coal, boost renewable power and energy efficiency, and put climate risks front and centre – to create a more sustainable environment for us all to enjoy.
“Instead, in the middle of a heatwave, the government has further threatened our already warming climate – and yet no strategic environmental assessment was ever made of the plans.”
Friends of the Earth’s Head of Legal, Will Rundle, added:
“We are considering our options to legally challenge this failure to environmentally assess the major impacts of this new planning framework, which we think is unlawful and shows contempt for people and our planet.”
Baroness Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson, said:.
“So much for giving local people a voice. This Tory government couldn’t care less about local people. Fracking is simply the government trying to offload its responsibility for developing renewables at scale. This is totally unacceptable but what we’ve come to expect from a government with no principles.”
Updated 27/7/2018 to include section Minerals remain in the NPPF