Westminster speed up application process once more

The UK Government has once more sped up the application process that relates to Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction (USGE).

In a move that is more likely to affect the auctioned areas from the 14th round and beyond, USGE applications now force local councils to grant the application no later than 16 weeks, without extension. Whilst planning applications are already subject to a 16 week deadline, there was the option of extending the deadline so that more information could be gathered. However, that option has now been removed.

If the deadline is reached and the application not granted, the Westminster Government has the right to step in, overrule the local council in question, and grant the application to the Oil and Gas companies.

This move may not be in the spirit of the law that would allow time for research for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and Health Impact Assessments (HIA). However, the move to keep application processes within 16 weeks is within the letter of the law, and is therefore not illegal.

The move can be deemed as a shame because  EIA’s and HIA’s should be carried out so that the risk to human health and quality of live can be assessed before any new industry moves into an area, in particular fracking, which has already earned itself such a dark shady past, despite Governments globally stating that the practice is safe.

Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services at Lancashire county council. His councils conflict with Cuadrilla was only possible due to the fact that they could apply for extension on deadlines for the purposes of carrying out more research on the subject. Those extensions are now now longer permitted to licences granted from 14th round on wards.
Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services at Lancashire county council. His councils conflict with Cuadrilla was only possible due to the fact that they could apply for extension on deadlines for the purposes of carrying out more research on the subject. Those extensions are now now longer permitted to licences granted from 14th round on wards. (image source: council.lancashire.gov.uk)

Sadly, the 16 week ‘no-extension-available’ deadline won’t allow the local councils the time to assess the dangers to the people and environment in their area properly.

This runs risk of hurting other humans, children and adults, today and tomorrow and the option of an extension for further research is a good thing, and it should not be removed.

But it has been. And it is not illegal.

Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services at Lancashire county council, who have had to deal with Cuadrilla, said that the Cuadrilla case had “dragged on” so long, because the deadlines his council sought had been extended to get more information. He said: “I can see what the direction of travel is: it’s to remove local determinism, and the right of local people to have a say,” Furthermore Johnstone felt that reducing the role of local planning risked storing up problems later. “If they [government] don’t gauge the anger now, they run a real risk of not giving the public any outlet to express their views. If you shut out off the safety valve, you’re going to have problems.”

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