Permitted Development and Shale Gas Exploration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:49 pm on 28th March 2019.

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Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:49 pm, 28th March 2019

The consultation asked exactly that question of whether there should be a restriction. I know my hon. Friend suggested—in the last debate and in this one—having density restrictions on well pads in particular areas. We will answer that question when we respond to the consultation.

The permitted development consultation and the NSIP consultation mentioned by my hon. Friend and the shadow Minister ran for 14 weeks and closed on 25 October. The Government are currently analysing the representations to the consultations and will publish a response in due course.

All hon. Members have highlighted the importance of community engagement in the planning process. I reassure the House that we remain profoundly committed to ensuring that local communities are fully involved in the planning decisions that affect them and to making planning decisions faster and fairer. These are long-standing principles that I am adamant we will stick to. However, we understand that communities feel that they are often not consulted closely enough before planning applications are submitted by developers to the local planning authority. That can lead to opposition to developments and a longer application process.

Engagement with communities at the pre-application stage gives local people an earlier say in the planning process and makes developers aware of issues of importance to the community that may need to be resolved. The planning system in the UK already provides an extensive legislative framework for community involvement. However, there is scope to do more. That is why we published a separate consultation—sadly, unmentioned this afternoon —on whether applicants should be required to conduct a pre-application consultation with the local community prior to submitting a planning application for shale gas development, which could further strengthen the role that local people play in the planning process. The consultation closed on 7 January. We are currently analysing the representations that we have received and will publish a response in due course.

We also welcome the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s report of its inquiry on planning guidance relating to hydraulic fracturing and shale exploration. The report was published on 5 July 2018. We are considering its conclusions and recommendations, and will respond—to use a well-utilised word in this House—shortly.

I thank all hon. Members who have participated in this interesting and fascinating debate. Domestic onshore gas production, including shale gas, has the potential to play a major role in further securing our energy supplies. The UK must have safe, secure and affordable supplies of energy with carbon emission levels that are consistent with the carbon budgets defined in the Climate Change Act 2008 and our international obligations. The written ministerial statements on energy and planning policy made by the Secretaries of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and for Housing, Communities and Local Government on 17 May 2018 reiterated the Government’s view that there could be substantial benefits from the safe and sustainable exploration and development of our onshore shale gas resources.

We remain expressly committed to ensuring that local communities are fully involved in planning decisions that affect them and to making planning decisions faster and fairer at the same time. We have now delivered on our promise to consult on how best to develop our planning processes for both the exploration and production of shale gas development, while ensuring that communities remain fully involved. We are currently considering the responses from those consultations and will respond in due course.