MP warns against permitted development for shale gas exploration
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has warned Ministers against changing planning rules for shale gas exploration.
In a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday (28 March) Mr Herbert spoke against the application of permitted development rights for allowing exploratory and shale gas drilling. Permitted development bypasses the requirement for local planning authorities to determine a planning application.
The MP said that while there was oil extraction in the South Downs which was “entirely uncontroversial”, this was because “the wells are located sensibly and the public do not get excited about them.” He said this was because they were located near a main road, not a community.
Mr Herbert made the point that “communities get particularly exercised about proposals when they fear that the countryside in which they live is about to become industrialised.”
Under original planning rules the responsible local authority has a duty to assess whether a proposal for exploratory drilling was appropriate. Highlighting the example of the proposal for exploratory drilling near Wisborough Green, which West Sussex County Council refused, Mr Herbert noted that “the Council looked at the proposed traffic movements down very narrow lanes and was very unhappy about the impact. It rightly reflected the concerns of the local community.”
Mr Herbert said that he did not oppose permitted development rights in principle, where it was appropriate for such rights to be applied, giving the example of converting office buildings to residential premises.
But the MP suggested to the Minister “that this is one proposal that it would be wise to keep firmly locked away in the bottom drawer.” He asserted his belief that it was appropriate for local authorities to be able to assess the impact of drilling on traffic movements.
Mr Herbert also observed that there was “no non-controversial way to generate energy”. He made the point that large-scale solar farms in the wrong location could excite as much opposition as drilling.
Concluding his speech, Mr Herbert said: “I know there is concern about the potential, random industrialisation of the countryside. We cannot allow that to happen through one tick in a ministerial box and then find that we have no control over it.”
Replying to the debate Kit Malthouse, Minister for Housing, emphasised the importance of the countryside.
He said that no final decision has been made on whether to bring the proposals forward, but that the Government were considering representations made during the consultation.
The Minister said that the consultations have been part of a range of measures to make planning decisions faster and fairer for all those affected by new shale gas development and to ensure that local communities are fully involved in the planning decisions that affect them.
Mr Malthouse also made clear that any potential permitted development rights granted for shale gas exploration would not apply to hydraulic-fracturing operations or the production stage of shale gas extraction.
The Minister emphasised that regulatory regimes would remain in place as part of any permitted development, which includes the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority. He added that community engagement would remain an important part of the planning process with scope to do more.
1. Photograph: Nick Herbert speaking in the debate (28 March).
2. To read Nick’s speech in full see https://www.nickherbert.com/news/2019/3/28/nick-warns-against-permitted-development-rights-for-shale-gas-exploration.
3. To read a full report of the debate from Hansard see https://tinyurl.com/y6b7cywc.