Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has announced 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.
Hydrocarbon development involves the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas and can be undertaken by conventional or unconventional methods.
Announcing her decision, the Minister stated: “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.”
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.
The minister continued: “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 has issued a ‘Direction’ requiring that a council planning authority must notify the Department for Infrastructure when it proposes to grant planning permission for all types of petroleum development, applying to conventional and unconventional petroleum development.
According to the Department for Infrastructure, there are no live planning applications for hydrocarbon/petroleum development before any local planning authority in Northern Ireland at this time.