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Shale planning: forward guidance is not new policy

By Roy Pinnock

Publication of the government’s criteria for the 14th Round of Petroleum Exploration Development Licences (PEDLs) has been carefully choreographed to address concerns about the environmental effects of unconventional exploration, including for shale oil and gas. The Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) publication has been accompanied by additional Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) and written statements to Parliament and the House of Lords. While the guidance changes nothing, there are some clear political signposts to which applicants and objectors will need to pay attention.

Although the new PEDL areas cover roughly half of Great Britain, the areas identified as the major shale gas/oil plays by the British Geological Survey are much more limited. The number of PEDL awards is therefore likely to be a small fraction of the 1,040 available 100km² licence blocks. Nonetheless, the ‘Planning for hydrocarbon extraction’ PPG has been prepared to give comfort to those concerned about the effects of development in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks and World Heritage Sites (WHSs). It states that where unconventional hydrocarbon development in these sensitive areas is ‘major development’, there has to be an exceptional case and a public interest for allowing it to proceed. This is already being heralded as prohibiting unconventional oil and gas development in these areas other than in exceptional (or in the case of WHS, wholly exceptional) circumstances. That is wholly wrong.

The PPG restates what is already in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (paragraphs 116 and 133) on development in sensitive areas. There must only be an exceptional case and a public interest where it is ‘major development’…

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