In a landmark decision, the UK Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid (the SoS), has overturned the decision of Lancashire County Council (the Council) to refuse planning permission to extract shale gas at a site near Little Plumpton, Lancashire (the Plumpton Hall Farm Site).

Planning applications submitted by the oil and gas company Cuadrilla Resources (Cuadrilla) for shale gas development at the Plumpton Hall Farm Site and at a second site at Roseacre Wood (the ‎Roseacre Wood Site) (together, the Sites) were rejected by the Council’s Development Control Committee last year. Noise and traffic impacts associated with the proposed activities were cited as key reasons for the refusal.

Four separate appeals were later lodged by Cuadrilla in respect of the planning applications at the Sites, leading to a public inquiry. The recommendations were reported back to the SoS in July 2016 for his final determination.

The decision, issued on 6 October 2016, overturns the original decision in relation to the Plumpton Hall Farm Site and permits the planning application at this site. In reaching the decision the following elements were noted:

  • The need for shale gas exploration was a ‘material consideration of great weight’‎.
  • The Government was satisfied that the impacts of the production and treatment of waste fluid would be reduced to an acceptable level.
  • The existing regulatory regime was considered to be sufficiently effective to control emissions and the Government concluded there would be no health impacts arising from potential exposure to air and water pollutants. Public concerns about health carried ‘little weight in the planning balance’.
  • The Government considered that the risks of induced seismic activity would be reduced to a minimum and acceptable level.
  • Impacts on house prices and insurance were given no weight.
  • The benefits to local employment and energy security provided by fracking of shale gas were key reasons for the decision.

The SoS approval of Cuadrilla’s plans mean that for the first time in the UK, horizontal fracking of shale rock has been given the go-ahead. This decision will be warmly welcomed by developers, who will be encouraged by the positive and robust way in which the Government has dealt with some of the issues which have driven local political and public opposition in the past.

Although the decision in relation to Roseacre Wood Site was deferred, the SoS suggested that with further information provided in relation to highway safety issues, Cuadrilla’s appeal in respect of the second site might be equally successful. This is welcome news for the onshore oil and gas industry

The Norton Rose Fulbright Environment, Safety and Planning group based in London provides comprehensive planning and environmental regulatory advice on all types of oil and gas exploration projects, and has experience of dealing with local government and regulators on projects of this type. For further information, please contact Duncan Field or Caroline May.