Planning - Having a say in fracking applications
Who decides whether or not fracking can go ahead?
The local mineral planning authority decides fracking applications. In Ryedale, that almost certainly means North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC).
How long does it take to decide an application?
When NYCC receives an application to frack, it initially has a "determination period" of 16 weeks in which to come to a decision. However, it is usual for applications which relate to complex environmental issues such as fracking to be submitted alongside an Environmental Impact Assessment, and in these cases it is often necessary to extend the initial 16 week period, sometimes several times, to allow time for the planners to request further information, consult on that information and then to consider before coming to a decision. The application for a potash mine near Whitby took more than 2 years to decide.
In the case of fracking, however, the government has announced that if local planning authorities "repeatedly fail" to reach a decision within the 16 week period, the government can "call in" any subsequent fracking applications. A decision that is "called in" would be taken out of the hands of local planning authorities and decided by the Communities Secretary.
The 16 week determination period has to include a 21 day public consultation during which residents and others are invited to comment on the plans.
Whose views are considered?
People and bodies that MUST be consulted before NYCC comes to a decision are called statutory consultees - they include Ryedale District Council and also any Town or Parish Councils that fall within the relevant licence block. That is one reason why it is important for local councils to know, in good time, what residents' thoughts and concerns about fracking are.
In addition, any private individual or group can also submit comments.
Expressing support for proposals
People can submit comments in support of a proposal in the same way as those wishing to object.
Are all comments considered equally?
No. It depends whether the thing being commented about is deemed to be a "planning matter" or not. If it isn't, then NYCC will not take it into account when they make their decision.
What counts as a "planning matter" and what doesn't?
Some objections are not considered to be planning matters in any planning application - for example if a proposed activity would reduce the value of your home or spoil the view from it.
The government has also issued specific guidance just for fracking applications. It relates to any aspect of fracking that is subject to regulation, for example by the Environment Agency or the Health and Safety Executive, and it states that planning authorities should assume that all the regulatory regimes will operate effectively.
As a result, all that planners can do with an objection relating to these matters is to pass it on to the relevant regulatory body for comment. If the regulatory body reports that the objection is addressed by existing regulation, the planning authority will give less weight to that comment when coming to a decision.
Due to government guidance, comments about the following regulated issues are likely to be given less weight by NYCC:
- Management of borehole integrity (Health and Safety Executive)
- Management of water contamination (Environment Agency)
- Management of contaminated fracking waste (Environment Agency)
- Management of methane escape (Health and Safety Executive)
In addition, government policy is deemed not to be a planning matter, so NYCC will not give any weight to objections that are made, for example, on the grounds that the government ought instead to be pursuing other sources of energy.
Is it still worth commenting about regulated issues?
Definitely, because it means that planners will get a clearer idea from the regulators about how effective and up to date their risk management strategies are.
What is accepted as a planning matter in fracking applications?
Considerations that are deemed to be planning matters include:
- Scale, appearance and design of the proposal
- Impact on the character of the area - e.g. landscape and visual amenity
- Effect on nature conservation, designated sites or species and trees
- Effect on highway safety and parking
- Effect on a Conservation Area or listed building
- Appearance - e.g. design, materials to be used
- Residential amenity - e.g. overlooking, noise, loss of light
- Traffic - e.g. volume, size, frequency, parking or access problems
- Drainage problems
- If what is proposed is contrary to Planning Policies (National or Local)
Comments concerned with the above issues will be considered by NYCC.