New fracking guidance emphasises the protection for National Parks

The Government has recently clarified its approach to planning for unconventional oil and gas, including the process known as fracking. Additional planning guidance published on 28 July 2014 makes it clear that proposals for such development in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) must take account of the additional planning protection that applies in these areas. The additional guidance also emphasises that mineral planning authorities must take account of the major development test when considering such applications in National Parks and AONBs. This means that applications should be refused except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest.

In March, we responded to a government consultation on further onshore oil and gas licensing arguing that National Parks and other nationally and internationally designated areas should be excluded.  We argued that allowing oil and gas licensing would be inconsistent with existing environment and planning policy, and would put at risk the wide range of benefits that National Parks provide. We have also raised concerns about the original guidance on planning for unconventional oil and gas which was published last summer. This did not give adequate recognition of the additional protection afforded to designated landscapes and failed to mention the major development test so we’re pleased that these concerns have now been addressed in the additional guidance published this week.

Our position on fracking is set out in the policy position statement on energy infrastructure which we published last year. We would not support the use of fracking in National Parks, given the potentially significant environmental impacts, including the landscape damage caused by the large number of boreholes required to recover shale gas and the fact that increased reliance on gas risks undermining the UK’s progress towards meeting climate change targets.