Written Ministerial Statement by Baroness Hanham.
The coalition government believes shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs. While shale gas in the UK is in the very early stages of development, scientists from the British Geological Survey have estimated that the total volume of gas in the Bowland Hodder shale in northern England at some 1,300 trillion cubic feet. The British Geological Survey is doing further work to establish the amount of shale gas in the Weald Basin in the south east of England.
Effective exploration and testing of the UK’s unconventional gas resources is therefore key for understanding the potential of this industry. The government is creating the right framework to accelerate shale gas development in a responsible and sustainable way.
As the shale gas industry develops, the government wants to ensure an effective, locally-led planning system is in place. We have already made it clear that responsibility for determining planning applications for onshore oil and gas activities, including for the exploration of shale gas, will be with local authorities. Decisions will therefore continue to be taken in accordance with local plans and the National Planning Policy Framework.
Today, the Department for Communities and Local Government is publishing planning guidance for industry, minerals planning authorities and local communities on how shale gas (and other onshore oil and gas) developments should proceed through England’s planning system. I hope this will provide clarity for business, councils and local residents. I am placing a copy in the Library of the House.
This guidance has been prepared in line with the recommendations of the external review of planning practice guidance. It will be kept under review and should be read alongside other planning guidance and the National Planning Policy Framework.
The government is minded to amend existing secondary legislation in relation to application requirements and fees for onshore oil and gas development. We believe that greater clarity in law will help provide certainty to councils and encourage investment. We will undertake a short consultation on our suggested approach, before putting our proposals before Parliament. The government will also set out its position in due course on any issues which impinge on reserved matters.
The guidance provides clarity on the role of the planning system and interaction with the separate environmental and health and safety regimes. Other regulators, including the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive will address sub-surface issues to protect against seismic disturbance or pollution of groundwater. Close working between all regulatory bodies will ensure that there remains a robust, comprehensive and safe regulatory regime in place.