Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon MLA announced today that she is commencing a review of strategic planning policy on oil and gas development. The review will include consideration of unconventional hydrocarbon development, commonly referred to as fracking.
Announcing her decision the Minister said:
“The planning system has a key role to play in helping to mitigate and adapt to climate change and in the protection of our cherished local environment which must be safeguarded, not only for the health and wellbeing of current generations, but in the long term public interest of future society. Following on from the latest UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report, I believe it is important to ensure that the planning approach to this category of development remains appropriate in the context of the climate emergency and my ambitions for a green recovery from the covid pandemic.”
Hydrocarbon development involves the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas and can be undertaken by conventional or unconventional methods. In taking forward the review, Minister Mallon has advised that it will follow established policy making best practice. This will normally involve background research and scoping as well as engagement with a wide range of stakeholders.
Minister Mallon added:
“I have already removed permitted development rights for petroleum exploration and I am now taking forward this review as I want to ensure that the current planning policy approach on hydrocarbon development, as contained within the Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS), remains up-to-date, fit for purpose and has the support of local communities.
My officials will now begin the preparatory work to take this review forward. It is essential to steer the policy in the right direction, informed by the evidence, which serves the long term public interest of communities across the North.”
Minister Mallon also announced that, preceding the outcome of the policy review, she is today issuing a ‘Direction’ requiring that a council planning authority must notify the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) when it proposes to grant planning permission for all types of petroleum development. This direction applies to conventional and unconventional petroleum development.
The Minister said:
“This new ‘Direction’ which I am now issuing will allow my Department to maintain a close and careful watch over this controversial category of development. The direction will provide the opportunity for me to intervene and take action, if and as appropriate. In effect, the action I am taking stops any such applications from being unilaterally approved by a council and gives me the opportunity to decide on calling it in to my Department.
“I am absolutely committed to ensuring that my Department, and the wider planning system, do everything possible to help address the climate emergency, protect our environment and enable a green recovery from the covid pandemic and that includes providing clarity and consistency on how any future planning applications for petroleum development are to be determined, should any be submitted.”
Notes to editors:
- Strategic planning policy for oil and gas development, also referred to as hydrocarbon/petroleum development, and wider minerals development is contained in the Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) for Northern Ireland, published September 2015.
- Planning legislation for the removal of permitted development rights (PDRs) for the drilling of boreholes for petroleum exploration came into operation on the 21 December 2020.
- ‘The Planning (Notification of Applications – Petroleum) Direction 2021’ issued to all district councils on the 27th September 2021 and was prepared under Articles 17 and 18 of the Planning (General Development Procedure) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015.
- There are no live planning applications for hydrocarbon/petroleum development before any local planning authority in Northern Ireland at this time.
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