Michael Gove to decide Woodsetts and Ellesmere Port shale gas plans

Michael Gove has replaced Robert Jenrick as secretary of state for housing, communities and local government.

Michael Gove addressing the Surrey Rural Economy Conference May 2018. Source: Still from video by Surrey Residents Network

His new in-tray will include long-awaited decisions on planning applications for shale gas schemes at Woodsetts in South Yorkshire and Ellesmere Port in Cheshire.

A ruling on both had been due 18 months ago in April 2020, following public inquiries.

A year later, in April 2021, after a moratorium had been imposed on fracking for shale gas, the ministry said:

“These complex cases remain under consideration – decisions on both will be issued as soon as is practicable.”

There have been no announcements since then.

The Woodsetts proposal to explore for shale gas in the green belt was first announced more than four years ago by the chemical company, Ineos. The scheme was turned down twice by Rotherham Borough Council and discussed at an inquiry in June 2019.

IGas plans to test an existing shale gas well near the Mersey estuary was refused by Cheshire West and Chester Council in January 2018 and went to a public inquiry held in January-March 2019.

Mr Gove, who represents Surrey Heath, was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster before the reshuffle.

He has held senior positions in government and opposition since 2007, including education, justice, environment and at the Treasury.

Oil exploration blocked in Surrey

Three years ago, as environment secretary, Mr Gove blocked oil exploration by Europa Oil & Gas in the Surrey Hills near the Leith Hill beauty spot.

He refused to renew the site’s lease on Forestry Commission land at Bury Hill Wood because of the potential impact on nearby ancient woodland.  

A statement at the time from Mr Gove’s department said:

“The nation’s woods and forests are cherished natural assets and we want to ensure they are protected now and into the future.

“Any decisions on activity within the Public Forest Estate are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the environmental impacts and latest evidence.”

In 2018, at rural economy conference in Surrey in 2019, he said the drive for economic growth had been “literally unsustainable”:

“we were in effect hacking into the tree of life, sawing off the branch on which we sit, undermining the foundation of our future”.

He said development in the green belt were some of the most contentious questions he had to deal with:

“they reflect the commitment which my constituents feel, that so many of us feel towards ensuring that that which we inherited, that with which we grew up as children, that which we pass on to others should be protected, preserved and enhanced.”

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