Alan Tootill discusses proposed changes are to the National Planning Policy Framework

Alan Tootill has been commenting on the shale gas industry for a number of years. In this article he looks at the Government’s consultation on amendments to the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework).

[You can download Alan’s two books on fracking, Fracking the UK Volumes 1 and 2, free  by following this link]

Introduction

The government has released a new draft text “consulting” on planned changes to its planning advice to local authorities.

Many local authorities will concentrate on the part of the document referring to national housing “need”, Green Belt and other issues, because that has been their bread-and-butter concern in the past.

But tucked away there is a potentially damaging section on the demands to be made on Mineral Planning Authorities by the new guidance.

This is clearly designed to go under the radar of most councils, who have little experience or knowledge of shale oil and gas applications.

But it gets worse – the government has issued this at a time when responses are being solicited by the Select Communities & Local Government Committee on planning changes for fracking. To issue new draft NPPF guidance in the last week of the Committee’s consultation is totally irresponsible, reprehensible, undermining as it does the validity of the responses already made to the Committee by not only individuals but councils, who will now no longer have time to respond to the new suggestions.

So what are the new proposals?

The key section is reproduced at the end of this document. For the full document visit
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/685289/Draft_revised_National_Planning_Policy_Framework.pdf

3 Comments

3.1 Local authorities must “recognise the benefits of on-shore oil and gas development, including unconventional hydrocarbons, for the security of energy supplies and supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy; and put in place policies to facilitate their exploration and extraction;”

This is asking councils to accept the government’s policy declaration of benefits as gospel. This has never been justified by reference to data, and can not be. The paragraph demands that local authorities support government policy, which many will see as an attack on local democracy, and demands that authorities follow this by inclusion of their pro-fracking policy in local plans. This is a new development in planning terms and entirely unacceptable.

This is the main objection to the draft. It can only be present in this document so that the government has a belt and braces approach to its promotion of fracking. If the plan to make all fracking an NSIP (or worse, a permitted development) thereby taking decisions out of local hands and tying those hands even in making recommendations against fracking applications, it will attempt to impose a situation wherebv local authorities find it difficult or impossible to refuse applications themselves..

3.2 “when planning for on-shore oil and gas development, clearly distinguish between, and plan positively for, the three phases of development (exploration, appraisal and production);”

This is exactly what the Secretary of State failed to do when overriding the refusal of Cuadrilla’s PNR application. This clearly included provision for production (the pipeline) and should according to this new advice not have been there for exploration. This paragraph is designed to override concern that exploration will inevitably create precedent and prejudice future production applications at a site.

3.3 “indicate any areas where coal extraction and the disposal of colliery spoil may be acceptable;”

As a slight aside, it is amazing that a document which elsewhere talks about climate change and transition to low-carbon proposes councils identify new areas for coal extraction.

3.4 “encourage the capture and use of methane from coal mines in active and
abandoned coalfield areas; and
f) provide for coal producers to extract separately, and if necessary stockpile,
fireclay so that it remains available for use.”

This is interesting in that it tacitly accepts that abandoned coal mines leak. As will fracking wells.

3.5 “When determining planning applications, minerals planning authorities should ensure that the integrity and safety of underground exploration, extraction and storage operations and facilities are appropriate, taking into account the maintenance of gas pressure, prevention of leakage of gas and the avoidance of pollution.”

This is completely at variance with the direction to local authorities in existing guidance that they are not able to look at the integrity and safety issues of fracking. They must leave this to the regulatory agencies (EA, BEIS and HSE). It demonstrates the government really hasn’t got its act together.

3.6 “Permission should not be given for the extraction of coal unless the proposal is environmentally acceptable, or can be made so by planning conditions or obligations; or if not, it provides national, local or community benefits which clearly outweigh the likely impacts to justify the grant of planning permission.”

This is more muddled thinking, when councils are elsewhere requested to find new acceptable areas for coal extraction.


The key section relating to shale gas applications in the consultation document is shown below:

Oil, gas and coal exploration and extraction

204. Minerals planning authorities should:

a) recognise the benefits of on-shore oil and gas development, including
unconventional hydrocarbons, for the security of energy supplies and supporting
the transition to a low-carbon economy; and put in place policies to facilitate
their exploration and extraction;

b) when planning for on-shore oil and gas development, clearly distinguish
between, and plan positively for, the three phases of development (exploration,
appraisal and production);

c) encourage underground gas and carbon storage and associated infrastructure if
local geological circumstances indicate its feasibility;

d) indicate any areas where coal extraction and the disposal of colliery spoil may
be acceptable;

e) encourage the capture and use of methane from coal mines in active and
abandoned coalfield areas; and

f) provide for coal producers to extract separately, and if necessary stockpile,
fireclay so that it remains available for use.

205. When determining planning applications, minerals planning authorities should
ensure that the integrity and safety of underground exploration, extraction and
storage operations and facilities are appropriate, taking into account the
maintenance of gas pressure, prevention of leakage of gas and the avoidance of
pollution.

206. Permission should not be given for the extraction of coal unless the proposal is
environmentally acceptable, or can be made so by planning conditions or
obligations; or if not, it provides national, local or community benefits which clearly
outweigh the likely impacts to justify the grant of planning permission.

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