The move will welcome a Shale Environmental Regulator and new Planning Brokerage Service as well as a new £1.6 million shale support fund over the next two years.
Environmentalists have slammed Government calls to explore and support the development of shale gas extraction after blasting it an ‘outright assault on local communities’.
Backing the move, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark said he wanted to speed up what he called ‘disappointingly slow’ planning applications through proposals to implement fracking as permitted development and Nationally Significant Infrastructure, something which would reverse the right for communities to influence local proposals.
He said estimations suggested the UK could be importing 72 per cent of its gas by 2030 and it was instead ‘right to utilise [our] domestic gas resources to the maximum extent and exploring further the potential for onshore gas production from shale rock formations in the UK’.
But the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said proposals to streamline the process for fracking applications posed huge environmental risks and ‘disastrous effects for the health and tranquillity of [our] countryside, landscapes and environment’.
CPRE senior infrastructure campaigner Daniel Carey-Dawes said: “This announcement signals an outright assault on local communities’ ability to exercise their democratic rights in influencing fracking applications.
“It reads like a wish list from the fracking companies themselves. The government may want to provide sweeteners for communities affected, but nothing will change the fact this will be a bitter pill to swallow.”
Friends of the Earth agreed and said if drilling for gas became permitted development, fracking companies would be able to drill straight away without the need for a planning application, environmental impact assessment or ‘proper local democratic participation’.
It said the move – initially designed for homeowners to extend their property without the need for planning applications – could put 17,820km2 of England’s countryside already with shale licences at immediate risk of drilling.
Campaigner Rose Dickinson said: “The Government’s plans pervert the planning process and could make England’s landscape a wild west for whatever cowboy wants to start drilling and digging up our countryside.
“If there was a referendum on fracking, it would be banished to the dustbin of history – and that is where these proposals belong.”
Two consultations will be held in summer 2018 on the principle of whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration development should be treated as permitted development and on the criteria required to trigger the inclusion of shale production projects into the National Significant Infrastructure projects regime.