Earlier this month the UK Government announced that £800,000 is to be made available next year to support mineral planning authorities who are handling planning applications for exploratory drilling for shale gas. This funding will be in addition to the £1.2 million shale support programme announced in 2015. The intention is to allow authorities to continue to increase their capabilities and guarantee an efficient and timely planning process for applications for shale gas exploration as they arise.

The mineral planning authority (a local authority with responsibility for mineral planning) can apply for funding at any one of the three planning ‘trigger points’. The trigger points are pre-application, post-receipt of a planning application and post-decision. Dependent on the trigger point there are different sums available and different levels of evidence required with an application

However the funding will only be available to those authorities with applications and trigger dates arising since April 2016 and in the first few weeks of the New Year. Bids where the trigger point was reached between 1 April 2016 and 1 December 2016 must be received within 28 days of 1 December 2016 and if the trigger point is after 1 December 2016 then the bid must be received by 17 February 2017.

Pre-application stage

At the pre-application stage a bid for funding will be capped at £30,000. The trigger is when the mineral planning authority can show that they have engaged with Council Officers, councillors and communities in the steps before a formal planning application. They can also apply for the funding where they have received a request for an Environmental Impact Assessment scoping opinion. Evidence of all pre-application engagement or the written request for the scoping opinion must be provided with the application.

Post-receipt of a planning application stage

The greatest amount will be available once the mineral planning authority has received a planning application for shale gas exploration. At this stage, as long as the authority can produce a letter of validation of the planning application, they are eligible to apply for £110,000. This funding can be used for a range of purposes, from guaranteeing that the authority has the necessary professional and specialist technical support to ensuring that an appropriate communication and media strategy can be developed.

Post-decision stage

To help with the effective discharge and monitoring of conditions after the planning permission has been granted mineral planning authorities can bid, upon providing a copy of the planning permission, for up to £20,000.

Conclusion

The funding will be allocated on a first come first served basis. The Government can give no guarantee that the money will not run out before the end of the year or before those deadlines for applications detailed above. Mineral planning authorities should also note that with each application for funding the authority will be entitled to less and less money. The second application for funding can only be for a maximum bid of 50% of the amount received the first time, and then the bid level drops by a further 5% with every subsequent application after that. This is intended to account for the investments in resources and expertise that the first few applications should have required and to accommodate for the expected multiple applications that may arise at the same time in certain parts of the country.

This additional funding is an important investment at the early stages of large scale shale gas exploration in the UK. If central government wants to promote the development of shale gas then it is vital that the local bodies responsible for applications are given the capacity to assess and deal with increased caseloads and potentially numerous planning enquiries, especially at a time of continued restraint in local government finance.