Ministers set to strip councils of the power to ban fracking

In an outline of a plan to foster a shale gas industry in Britain in the next ten years, ministers say they are minded to recommend that planning permission be removed from local authorities to prevent bottlenecks in the system.

The leaked letter – published by the Times, from Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, Greg Clark, the communities and local government secretary, and Liz Truss, the environment secretary, enraged anti-fracking campaigners, who said that the proposal was undemocratic.

The ministers wrote: “As well as improving the current planning system, it is important that we have a long-term approach to planning which is suitable for handling the large number of applications that would be seen in a full production stage. We are therefore minded to bring commercial shale production within the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime, and to be ready to begin the move from early 2016 for large-scale applications.”

The letter encourages a target of having a “maturing shale gas production industry” in ten years.

Ken Cronin, the chief executive of UKOOG, the body for the onshore oil and gas industry, said that the process needed to be speeded up, but that local people had to be afforded a forum.

“This is a heavily regulated industry with four separate regulators,” he said. “Recent experience has shown that the planning process for exploration needs to be made quicker and within prescribed timescales. The time taken for planning decisions has soared from three months to over a year and this is prohibitively expensive for local councils and operators.”

Eighty per cent of Britain’s gas will be imported by 2030 if permission is not given for companies to drill exploration wells, the organisation said.