The new rules will allow government intervention to approve or reject fracking permits

New shale rules take decisions away from councils

Final decisions on fracking projects have been taken away from councils after new rules hand the Government the power to directly approve permits.

Local politicians across the UK have stood in the way of proposed shale gas operations, most recently in late June when Lancashire Country Council rejected two applications from Cuadrilla Resources to carry out fracking saying the projects would be too noisy and blight the landscape.

But under the new rules, which are applicable immediately, the Government will be able to intervene in cases like this by 'calling in' the decision to approve or reject permits and all call-ins and appeals over shale applications will be prioritised by the planning inspectorate.

Councils that repeatedly take longer than the statutory 16 weeks to make a decision will also face having shale gas planning decisions made by Communities Secretary Greg Clark who will also take charge of determining appeals against planning rejections on a case-by-case basis.

"Local authorities are still going to be very much involved, but the Secretary for State for communities and local government will now have an increased role in making sure they stick to the planning timetable," Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd told BBC TV on Thursday.

Shale developer IGas Energy said the move gave clarity on the timetable for determining planning decisions for shale oil and gas exploration and pro-business groups also welcomed the decision, saying it would help get shale gas projects up and running.

The Government said it would present proposals later this year to create a sovereign wealth fund from returns generated from shale gas production and reiterated that local communities would remain fully involved in the planning process.

But environmental groups concerned about groundwater contamination and prolonging the burning of fossil fuels for electricity criticised the move, saying the government's decision would shut out local communities from crucial decisions.

Friends of the Earth senior energy campaigner Naomi Luhde-Thompson said: "Bulldozing fracking applications through the planning system, against the wishes of local people and councils, will simply fan the flames of mistrust and opposition.

"Local authorities have been following the rules. These changes are being made because the Government doesn't agree with the democratic decisions councils have been making."

Britain is estimated to have substantial amounts of shale gas trapped in underground rocks and the Government has been supportive of developing these reserves to counter declining North Sea oil and gas output.

But the Government's own polling shows public support for fracking slipping away, with just a fifth of people backing the extraction of shale gas for use in the UK, the lowest level since the Department of Energy first polled people on the issue in December 2013.

Critics have also pointed to the Governments "double standards" after it said in May that it plans to transfer consenting power for large onshore wind from the energy minister to local planning authorities in England.

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