Proposals to grant Permitted Development Rights and make shale development Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects are both good for fracking communities
Back in May, a Written Ministerial Statement was issued jointly by the Secretaries of State for Energy and Communities, whose departments both have interests in shale gas regulation.
It announced plans to potentially treat some exploratory drilling activities as Permitted Development, while also maybe considering future shale gas development sites as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.
Predictably, the anti-fracking propaganda machine has been cranked-up, with all sorts of suggestions that this is the Tory government attempting to further dismantle local democracy by denying people the opportunity to have any say in the future.
Five minutes of study on the internet will quickly reveal this is not true at all.
Let's dive in and see shall we?
Permitted Development rights
Campaigners are all busy trying to make this sound bad by suggesting it puts fracking on par building an extension on your home. The reality, as ever, is nothing at all like that.
Permitted Development rights are granted to a range of development types by an Order made under the Town and Country Planning Act 2004. We encourage readers to take a good look at the legal rules because it is immediately clear that Permitted Development isn't always permitted!
The Order sets out various classes of development and when they are and are not Permitted Development. And, where something is Permitted Development, the Order goes on to list a multitude of conditions that developers must meet.
Take a look specifically at Classes J and K in Part 17 that relate to mineral exploration.
To suggest it's in any way lax is madness.
Then there's the fact that it is only proposed for non-fracking drilling, so it's got nothing to do with fracking in any case.
And does it stop communities having their say? Not at all. That Written Ministerial Statement very clearly says government will be consulting both on the principle of making non-fracking drilling Permitted Development and also on the specific situations in which it would be appropriate - which means local people have an opportunity to influence the conditions that will need to be met.
Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects
There is no doubt that energy is of strategic national importance and vital to the UK's interests, so there's a lot to be said for ensuring that decisions that effect the entire country are made with that in mind and not by councillors that are open to extensive lobbying by opponents.
Although the decision would be made by the Planning Inspectorate if shale development were to be given NSIP status, that doesn't mean locals have no say. In fact, quite the opposite is true and, in fact, there's a chance they'll have more say.
That's because developers have a legal duty to consult the public before they even submit an application for a Development Consent Order and because, prior to examining it, the appointed Planning Inspector will then take submissions from members of the public that have registered as an Interested Party and are able to submit a Relevant Representation.
A quick read of these FAQs shows just how detailed the pre-application consultation has to be.
Anybody claiming that Permitted Development rights or NSIP status in any way water-down controls or prevent locals from having any kind of say either doesn't understand the system and what's proposed, is seeking to make political capital from it, or is just plain lying.