The government has now missed its own deadline by two years for decisions on shale gas schemes in south Yorkshire and Cheshire.
Ministers promised a target date of 8 April 2020 for rulings on Ineos plans for exploration at Woodsetts near Rotherham and on IGas testing at a well site in Ellesmere Port. Neither scheme was directly affected by the moratorium on fracking.
On the second anniversary of the deadline, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities was unable to tell DrillOrDrop when the decisions would be made.
In the past two years, the government has announced decisions on 36 other appeals.
Two years ago, on the target date, the then Ministry of Communities, Housing and Local Government said:
“regrettably, the secretary of state will not be in a position to publish a decision on the application today. I realise this will be disappointing news, and apologise for the delay in issuing a final decision on this application.”
A year ago, a department spokesperson said:
“These complex cases remain under consideration – decisions on both will be issued as soon as is practicable.”
Both schemes had been refused permission by local planning committees in 2018. Ineos and IGas appealed against the refusals and the schemes were considered by public inquiries in 2019.
In June 2019, after the end of the inquiries, the then local government secretary, James Brokenshire, announced he would decide, or recover, both appeals.
Since then, the post of secretary of state has changed twice. The current holder is Michael Gove.
Matthew Wilkinson, a campaigner against the Ineos plans at Woodsetts, told DrillOrDrop today he was not surprised that the government had failed to make a decision in a reasonable time. He said:
“Fracking plans, operations, policies and legal challenges have been a nightmare for the government for some time now. Nothing has worked out. Communities still hate it, as they have done since day one. The industry has looked predatory and untrustworthy. Scientists warn against it. Campaigners just seem to get stronger. Legal injunctions used by the industry have been successfully challenged. The frackers have more than tried, and completely failed, to extract shale gas.
After a series of earth tremors caused by fracking at Preston New Road in Lancashire, he said: “I think most people could see that scaling up such a high-risk operation was never going to work”.
He added: “ultimately the science for putting fracking under moratorium has not changed”.
“The frackers should stop lobbying and doing PR campaigns and read the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report from last week.”
A year ago, the MPs for Rother Valley, Alexander Stafford, and Ellesmere Port, Justin Madders, called for an end to the uncertainty over the schemes.
Last month, (March 2022), the Ellesmere Port MP, Justin Madders, asked in a parliamentary debate why it was so hard to decide the IGas appeal, now three years after the public inquiry.
“It is not possible for me at the Dispatch Box to comment on individual decisions as they may be being assessed by the Department.”
In November 2021, the local government minister, Eddie Hughes, told Mr Madders:
“You will understand the appeal is being decided in a complex policy context relating to shale extraction and in respect of climate change.
“While I am unable to give an indication of the timing, I should assure you that we will write to you with the outcome as soon as we are able to do so.”
The delays appear to breach government policy to make planning decisions on shale gas “faster and fairer” for all affected. A written ministerial statement in May 2018 said: “no one benefits from the uncertainty caused by delay”.
After missing the April 2020 deadline, the then Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government refused freedom of information requests to release the recommendations of the inquiry inspectors. (Details here and here)