The Government has launched a raft of new measures, including a £1.6m fund, to help local authorities deal with shale gas drilling applications.
The energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry announced the new package arguing the development of shale gas had ‘the potential to help lower bills’.
Shale gas is extracted using a controversial technique known as ‘fracking’.
This is where holes are drilled into the ground followed by liquid sprayed under high pressure. The force of the liquid creates cracks in the rock formation out of which gas can be extracted.
Critics argue that by encouraging the use of shale gas - a fossil fuel - the Government is avoiding investing in green energy.
Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey responded that fracking ‘should be banned, not promoted’.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas described the measures as ‘absolutely shocking’ on Twitter and called them a ‘green light for climate breakdown.’
The Government’s new package - which delivers on a Conservative manifesto pledge - streamlines the regulation process for shale applications to ensure decisions are made more quickly.
This includes setting up a Shale Environmental Regulator and new Planning Brokerage Service which would focus exclusively on the planning process.
However, the Government emphasised this would have no role in determining planning applications from developers requesting permission to frack.
The package includes a £1.6m shale support fund over the next two years to build capacity and capability in local authorities dealing with shale applications.
There will also be a consultation on the principle of whether the early stages of shale exploration should be treated as permitted development and on the circumstances in which this might be appropriate.
‘British shale gas has the potential to help lower bills and increase the security of the UK’s energy supply while creating high quality jobs in a cutting-edge sector,’ said Ms Perry.
‘This package of measures delivers on our manifesto promise to support shale and it will ensure exploration happens in the most environmentally responsible way while making it easier for companies and local communities to work together.’
There will also be a consultation on the criteria required to trigger the inclusion of shale production projects into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime.
The Local Government Association (LGA) welcomed the additional funding but emphasised decisions concerning drilling for shale gas should be made at the local level.
In October 2016 the Government controversially overturned a decision by Lancashire County Council to refuse permission for a fracking site.
‘It is good that the Government will provide additional funding and support to help councils deal with shale applications,’ said Cllr Judith Blake, the LGA’s environment spokesperson.
‘However we oppose any proposal for shale exploration to be allowed to bypass the locally democratic planning system through permitted development or national planning inspectors.
‘We are clear that it should be up to local communities to decide whether or not to host fracking operations in their areas.’