Proposed changes to English planning law for shale gas developments will not apply at the exploratory stage, according to the housing minister.
Dominic Raab said proposed planning law changes, which could see fracking projects included into the nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) regime, would only be applied to applications at the production stage.
The minister said the government wanted to keep local communities engaged in the planning process, while also dealing with fracking as a “national priority”.
Mr Raab, appearing before the Commons housing, communities and local government committee on Monday, said: “The nationally significant infrastructure projects regime is a bespoke system, it is designed to examine complex major infrastructure projects effectively. It only applies to the production stage, not the exploratory stage.”
Projects on the NSIP regime are granted development consent orders, which speeds up production by removing the need for subsequent consent applications, including planning permission.
Opponents to the proposed changes, announced last week, said they would “bypass the locally democratic planning system”.
Business secretary Greg Clark and housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire announced last Thursday that two new consultations on planning law for fracking projects will begin in the summer. The second consultation will look at the “criteria required to trigger the inclusion” of fracking projects onto the NSIP regime.
Exploration is the first of three stages for extracting shale gas from bedrock, followed by the appraisal and production stages. It involves drilling a number of wells to examine whether the site is appropriate for industrial production.
Addressing the communities and local government committee, Mr Raab added that delays to planning applications for fracking sites was “one of the evidence bases upon which we’re formulating policies”.