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13 Aug 2015

Earlier this month my Ministerial colleague Andrea Leadsom visited Greater Manchester’s Chamber of Commerce where she met and listened to a broad range of senior business and education leaders local to the North West of England. Their main energy interest? Ensuring the UK has safe and secure energy supplies.

Nationally around a third of UK energy demand is met by gas, the cleanest fossil fuel. A quarter of that is used to produce electricity, some is a vital ingredient for industry and nearly all the rest is used for industrial processes, to heat our buildings and cook our food. It makes total sense that we make the most of shale gas, a home grown energy source we have right here in Britain, instead of relying more and more on volatile foreign gas imports.

That is why the government is taking action to kickstart the shale industry which could support over 60,000 jobs and lead to tens of billions of pounds of investment in the UK, helping to create lasting economic security for hardworking people and their families across the country. No one benefits from the uncertainty caused by delay. We expect every planning application or appeal, large or small, to be dealt with as quickly as possible, as we would do of a housing development for example. Therefore, as of today shale gas planning applications will be fast-tracked through a new, dedicated planning process. Today’s measures include:

• The Communities Secretary actively considering calling in on a case by case basis shale planning applications and considering recovering appeals;

• Identifying councils that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within the 16 week statutory timeframe requirement (unless applicants agree to a longer period). Underperforming councils’ gas and oil planning applications could be determined by the Communities Secretary;

• Adding shale applications as a specific criterion for recovery of appeals, to ensure no application can ‘fall through the cracks’;

• Ensuring planning call ins and appeals involving shale applications are prioritised by the Planning Inspectorate; and

• Taking forward work on revising permitted development rights for drilling boreholes for groundwater monitoring.

Alongside these planning changes I firmly believe that industry and government have a key role in bringing confidence to the public about shale. My department has recently developed a number of videos which aim to better explain the processes surrounding shale gas, and to give people confidence that Britain’s shale regime will build on our strengths in developing industries while protecting safety and the environment.

Exploring our Shale gas potential whilst maintaining the very highest of safety and environmental standards is part of our long-term plan to build a more resilient economy and ensure the potential of all parts of the UK is realised. Shale gas has the potential to fuel the growth of the Northern Powerhouse along with other parts of the country and I believe these changes in planning will help to fulfil this potential.

Last week, my ministerial colleague Andrea Leadsom visited an onshore gas site in the North West which would look similar to a future shale gas site, and it showed that potential shale sites can be built in an unobtrusive way, with minimal impact on the local environment and community. It was a good reminder that we already have a thriving onshore oil and gas industry – and one that operates with minimal impact on people’s lives. We should expect no different from shale. We have one of the most strict regulatory systems in the world and have been regulating the oil and gas industry successfully for over 50 years. It's a real UK strength, and I believe we can make the most of shale gas as we move away from coal towards a clean energy future.

All views expressed are that of the authors, and not of the British Chambers of Commerce.