Last week, it was announced that the Department for Communities and Local Government will intervene in a planning decision relating to two shale applications in Lancashire. Despite this appearing to go against the Government’s localism agenda, the background of this case highlights why the Government is taking a necessary step.
In June of this year, Lancashire County Council rejected Cuadrilla’s application for shale exploration at the Preston New Road site on the basis of unacceptable noise and landscape impacts for local residents. This was a spurious explanation, going against recommendations from the Council’s own planning officers, who were clear that there were no reasonable environmental grounds to refuse the application.
The rejection of planning permission for this exploratory application is likely to be politically motivated. Rather than objecting to the application on planning grounds, it was blocked due to ideological objections to shale gas. In light of this, Greg Clark is right to intervene in this instance and make a decision based on its merits.
Unreasonable objections from local authorities cannot be used to frustrate shale exploration across the country, which has the potential to be a huge economic boon for the UK. The Lords Economic Affairs Committee, for example, highlighted the potential for indigenous shale to boost jobs in the north of England, enhance energy security, reduce the risk of gas price increases and assist struggling energy-intensive industries.
The Government’s re-commitment to a shale sovereign wealth fund in the Autumn Statement was a very welcome step. However, delays in planning approval for shale exploration across the north of England pose a threat to the UK’s infant shale industry, and should be the key focus for policymakers. Where local authorities are unreasonably blocking future shale applications, the Government should not hesitate to intervene again.