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Onshore oil, gas and shale developments will not be included in new fast-track planning regime, says Government

Onshore oil and gas developments, including shale gas projects, will not be 'fast tracked' under an expanded nationally significant infrastructure planning regime, the Government has announced.

Responding to its recent consultation on  expansion of the Planning Act regime to "business and commercial" projects, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said that responsibility for these schemes would remain with local minerals planning authorities. The Government does not intend to include such projects in the prescribed categories of business and commercial projects at present. However, this would be kept "under review", it said.

"Shale gas extraction has yet to take place at a commercial scale in this country and, as it develops, the Government will ensure that an effective planning system is in place, with the necessary guidance in place by July 2013," said DCLG in its consultation response.

"Applications for planning permission for onshore oil and gas should therefore normally remain with the minerals planning authorities for determination," it said.

Planning law expert Mike Pocock of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that this was "another instance where policy is not matching up with the rhetoric".

"It seems anomalous that, having acknowledged as recently as April that shale gas production in the UK could enhance our energy security and boost tax revenues, decisions on planning have not been given Nationally Significant status," he said. "We are at a pivotal stage of transforming the UK's energy mix and support via the planning regime is one low-cost option by which the Government could send a signal of its support for development."

"Shale gas developments could now become subject to lengthy community consultation processes, resulting in unnecessary delay. Developers and investors will now be looking to Government to outline some supportive measures for shale gas projects when it announces detailed planning guidance notes in July," he said.

Nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) are major infrastructure projects defined and determined in accordance with provisions in the Planning Act. NSIPs include new power plants, major road projects, waste and water schemes.

Last year, the Government consulted on  extending the NSIP regime to business and commercial projects to enable developers of prescribed projects "to ‘opt-in’ to the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime" where the project was of  national significance. Provision has been made in the Growth and Infrastructure Act and new regulations to implement the changes are expected in October 2013.

According to the Government's response, a number of consultation respondents were "concerned" by the inclusion of "onshore oil and gas" and "minerals" within the proposed new "business and commercial" category. One respondent group argued that coal "should be treated differently from other minerals, for reasons including planning blight and the proposed phase out of coal for power generation purposes", it said. Another said that including coal, oil and gas within the new regime "raised questions about the Government's commitment to address climate change", according to the response document.

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