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Shale Gas Development

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:18 pm on 31st October 2018.

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Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:18 pm, 31st October 2018

I am afraid that I do not have time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde highlighted the importance of community engagement in the planning process. I reassure him that we remain fully committed to ensuring that local communities are fully involved in planning decisions that affect them, and to making planning decisions faster and fairer. Those are long-standing principles and I am adamant that we should stick to them. However, we understand that communities feel that they are often not consulted closely enough before planning applications are submitted to the local planning authority by developers. As my hon. Friend highlighted, that can lead to opposition to developments and a longer application process.

Engagement with communities at the pre-application stage gives local people a say earlier 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, but I believe there is scope to do more. We have therefore published a consultation 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. We believe that that could further strengthen the role that local people play in the process, and we are keen to hear the voices of industry and of communities. The consultation also seeks views on the process of community consultation that should be required and on the stages of shale gas development that should be covered. It closes on 7 January, and I urge everybody to contribute to it.

Let me move on to the potential changes to permitted development rights. Over the summer, we consulted on whether permitted development rights should be expanded to include shale gas exploration development, and on the circumstances in which those proposals might be appropriate. I make it clear that any potential permitted development right granted for shale gas exploration would not apply to hydraulic fracturing operations or to the production stage of shale gas extraction. I also emphasise that any permitted development right covers only the planning aspects of the development; it does not remove requirements under the regulatory regimes of the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority.

It is important to note that all permitted development rights contain specific exemptions, conditions and restrictions to control and mitigate the impact of the development and protect local amenity. Any potential permitted development right for shale gas exploration would be no exception; for example, it could specify limits on the height of any structure, areas where a permitted development right would not apply, or noise and operation controls. The consultation has sought views on that issue.

In relation to the role that local communities and mineral planning authorities can play within the permitted development rights regime, our consultation also sought views on whether MPAs should be able to conduct a prior approval process to consider specific elements of a development before works can proceed. Such a process can include a requirement for public consultation. It would also enable local consideration of key matters.

There is currently no commercial production from any hydraulically fractured shale gas resources in the UK. However, we believe that it is vital to look ahead and understand how best to manage planning permissions for a future state in which shale gas is produced. We therefore also consulted over the summer on whether the production phase of shale gas developments should be brought within the nationally significant infrastructure projects, which many hon. Members have referred to. The consultation particularly sought to understand what the appropriate triggers and criteria could be for including production projects in the NSIP regime.

I emphasise that community engagement is fundamental to the NSIP regime’s operation. Pre-application consultation with the local community and with local authorities is a statutory requirement. Developers are required to consult extensively before an application is submitted and considered, and where the consultation has not been carried out in line with the statutory requirements, the Planning Inspectorate can refuse to accept an application. Local authorities and communities also have the right to be involved during the examination of a project; they can set out their views in written representations, which will then be taken into account in decision making.

Both consultations ran for 14 weeks and closed on 25 October. The Government are analysing the representations made and will publish a response in due course. Should we take forward the proposals, we have committed to conducting further consultations on the detail of the proposed changes. No doubt this debate will provide valuable feedback into that process.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde again for securing this valuable debate. We remain fully committed to ensuring that local communities are properly involved in planning decisions that affect them, and to making planning decisions faster and fairer. As part of that, as I said, we have launched a further consultation today on whether applicants should be required to conduct pre-application consultation with the local community. We have also delivered on our manifesto promises to consult on how best to develop our planning processes for exploration and production of shale gas development while ensuring that communities remain fully involved. We are considering the responses from the consultations and will respond in due course.