A government department has refused to release reports by planning inspectors on two public inquiries into shale gas schemes in England.
The inspectors had submitted their recommendations by early January 2020 on whether planning permission should be granted for the proposals by IGas at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire and Ineos at Woodsetts in South Yorkshire.
The final decisions were to be made by the local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, and issued by 8 April 2020.
A ministry spokesperson said the decision would be issued as “soon as practically possible”.
The ministry confirmed in each case that it had the inspectors’ reports but would not issue them because they were covered by a legal exemption on the disclosure of internal communications.
Correspondence from the ministry said the public interest served by disclosing the reports was “outweighed by that served by maintaining the exemption”.
The letters said the inspectors’ reports formed the basis of the decision on planning permission and conceded:
“It is right that the government applies transparency to the planning process in order that the public can see how decisions are reached.”
But the letters said the secretary of state may choose to accept or reject the inspectors’ recommendations:
“In this particular case such scrutiny has not taken place and the report has not been weighted.”
The letters also said:
“as no decision has been made on this case, the Inspector’s conclusions and recommendations have not been further considered. Nor has the report been shared outside of the Department.
“To release the report in these circumstances could provide information which has not been fully scrutinised in terms of accuracy and for this reason we are of the view that there is no compelling public interest in the release of this information.”
The ministry said the inspectors’ reports would be released when the final decision was issued.
Internal reviews have been sought into the responses to both freedom of information requests.