Following the government's move earlier in August to make clear that it intends to remove further obstacles to shale gas exploration two Written Ministerial Statements (WMS) were made on 16 September 2015 by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Communities and Local Government (CLG).

Amber Rudd's WMS on 16 September has the same content as the 'Policy Paper' which was published on 13 August 2015, after the Government had gone into summer recess.

Amber Rudd's WMS says nothing new; it repeats the content of the Policy Paper.  For further information read: What does the Government's Policy Paper mean for shale gas and oil developments.

Greg Clarke's WMS, 16 September 2015 however now provides further clarification on two matters as set out further below.

Non-statutory designation process for onshore oil and gas

The Policy Paper had stated that the government would take steps to identify local authorities that 'repeatedly' fail to determine oil and gas applications within the statutory timeframe.

Greg Clarke's WMS confirms that the government will operate a new non-statutory scheme as follows:

  • DCLG's published quarterly planning application statistical releases from 22 September 2015 onwards will include information on Local Planning Authority (LPA) performance on speed of decision making specifically on onshore oil and gas applications
  • If an LPA fails to decide 50% (or fewer) applications within the statutory determination period (or such extended period as has been agreed in writing by the applicant), i.e. 16 weeks for applications that require an environmental assessment, it will be at risk of designation as underperforming.  LPAs will not be identified as underperforming if they decided no more than two (2) applications during the assessment period
  • LPAs will be identified in the final quarter of each calendar year.  Prior to identification LPAs will be given the opportunity to set out any exceptional circumstances, with evidence, why the LPA considers designation would be unreasonable
  • The first identifications of any underperforming PLAs will be in the final quarter of 2016
  • If an PLA is designated it will remain so for one year.

The WMS confirms that if an LPA is designated, then the SoS will "actively consider exercising the power under section 77 of the TCPA to call-in the application" for his determination.  The WMS confirms that in considering whether to call-in any such application the SoS will have regard to his current policy for the use of his call-in powers.  For more information on call-in read our briefing on the Policy Paper.

Recovery criteria for appeals

Greg Clarke's WMS then goes on to confirm that the current recovery policy of 30 June 2008 is revised to include the additional criterion: "proposals for exploring and developing shale gas". The revision is to take effect from 16 September 2015 for a period of two years after which it will be reviewed.