Fracking. Is early community engagement the answer?
New government consultation.
A consultation on compulsory community pre-application consultation for shale gas (fracking) development was launched on 31 October 2018 by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
This is the third shale gas consultation of 2018. Following one on permitted development rights and another on projects falling within the nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP) regime. Both were published 19th July 2018 and both are now closed.
Options put forward in this proposal include a requirement for shale gas developers to consult local communities before submitting a planning application, the advance publication of information by developers and the requirement for an 'open and meaningful dialogue' with communities and stakeholders.
The government remains supportive of shale gas as a part of the energy mix and the intention is clearly not to stifle potential developments, but that pre-application engagement will help identify any concerns and resolve any issues at the start of projects.
Those familiar with renewables development may be reminded of another field which has previous attracted significant local opposition, namely wind energy. In response to this the government introduced a footnote to paragraph 154(b) of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), retained in the July 2018 revision. This requires that (emphasis added):
"[…] a proposed wind energy development involving one or more turbines should not be considered acceptable unless it is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in the development plan; and, following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been fully addressed and the proposal has their backing."
It remains to be seen whether this consultation will lead to a similar requirement for shale gas exploration, or if a more moderate approach to community involvement will be adopted.
The consultation closes on 7th January 2019.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.