Decisions on fracking could be taken away from local authorities in Sussex - under new guidance issued by the Government.
Currently both county councils in East and West Sussex and the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) decide whether or not to approve what are classed as mineral applications.
The area has been at the forefront of the fight to stop hyrdaulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, in the UK due to exploratory drilling applications in Balcombe, Fernhurst, and Wisborough Green.
The SDNPA tossed out Celtique’s bid for exploratory drilling near Fernhurst in 2014, while West Sussex County Council did the same to plans for a site between Kirdford and Wisborough Green last year.
Both decision were initially appealed, but these were then dropped earlier this year.
Meanwhile Cuadrilla’s exploratory drilling near Balcombe led to summer-long protests in 2013, a heavy police presence, and national media attention,
But now shale gas planning applications will be fast-tracked through a new dedicated planing process.
Under the new measures the Govermnent’s communities secretary will actively consider ‘calling-in’ applications on a case-by-case basis, while authorities that repeatedly fail to consider proposals oil and gas exploration within the statutory 16-week period could be stripped of their ability to determine applications.
Energy and climate change secretary Amber Rudd said: “As a one nation Government, we are backing the safe development of shale gas because it’s good for jobs giving hardworking people and their families more financial security, good for our energy security and part of our plan to decarbonise the economy. We need more secure, home grown energy supplies – and shale gas must play a part in that.
“To ensure we get this industry up and running we can’t have a planning system that sees applications dragged out for months, or even years on end.
“Oversight by the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency of shale developments makes our commitment to safety and the environment crystal clear. We now need, above all else, a system that delivers timely planning decisions and works effectively for local people and developers.”
Communities secretary Greg Clark added: “There is huge potential right across the country for safe and sustainable use of shale gas, to provide a clean long term energy source and create British jobs and growth.
“People’s safety and the environment will remain paramount and communities will always be involved in planning applications but no one benefits from uncertainty caused by delays in planning decisions.
“By fast tracking any appropriate applications today’s changes will tackle potential hold ups in the system.”
Celtique gained permission for exploratory drilling near Billingshurst to look for convential energy deposits in 2013, but Keep Billingshurst Frack Free fears that this could eventually lead to fracking at the site.
Fracking involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure underground to split apart porous shale rock to release trapped oil or gas deposits.
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