Blanket permissions for shale gas exploration in England are completely unsuitable and fly in the face of good planning, the RTPI said.
In its response to the Government’s consultation, the RTPI warned that the scale and sheer complexity of exploratory drilling “entirely dwarfs” development normally covered by permitted developments (PD) rights, which means PD risks ignoring highly sensitive local issues and environmental hazards associated with shale gas exploration.
PD rights are designed for “de minimus” development such as small-scale house extensions, the RTPI said, and should not be applied to a “complex, disruptive and highly contested exploration process for which it is not suited”.
Capacity and costs implications for local planning teams aside, we do not agree that control of such significant developments should bypass a proper, local, professional and democratic process.
The Institute added that using PD in this context devalues the plan-led system for minerals planning in England.
It also pointed out that seismic survey of shale gas is already allowed under PD rights and that the need for intrusive methods of exploration is not proven.
Richard Blyth, RTPI Head of Policy and Research, said:
“We are concerned about the creep of permitted development rights and its application to shale gas exploration is particularly worrying. The Government’s own proposal for a large range of conditions to be put around PD for them to work already proves that PD is not appropriate.
“Capacity and costs implications for local planning teams aside, we do not agree that control of such significant developments should bypass a proper, local, professional and democratic process.”
Under Government proposals, shale gas exploring companies will still need to give prior notification to the local authority before they can start on site but the fees, about £200 per notification, is “wholly insufficient to cover the amount of work [councils] need to do to make exploration safe and satisfactory”, said the RTPI.
Mr Blyth added:
“Ultimately, PD in this context is a false economy – the prior notification process will either take so long that it ends up as protracted as a planning application, or it is done so scantily that it fails to make the proper safeguards and provokes community objections.”
The RTPI’s response to the Government’s consultation is available here.