Minister says fracking plans not designed to loosen regulations

Plans to make it easier for companies to explore shale gas deposits and carry out fracking are not designed to loosen regulation of the highly controversial industry, an Energy Minister has said.

Plans to "frack" for shale gas have proved controversial in communities around the UK.

Claire Perry said proposals announced last week by Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark are an attempt to simplify the complex planning process to speed it up.

Environmentalists have reacted with fury to the plans, which include a consultation on allowing firms in England to use planning rules similar to those for home extensions to carry out exploratory drilling for shale gas.

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Under the plans, there would be a consultation this summer on whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale gas exploration development should be treated as “permitted development”, with no need for planning permission.

Appearing before the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Ms Perry said: “I don’t think there’s been any sense that there has been a regulatory barrier to the industry’s working better.

“There has been a highly complex interplay between regulations and planning which means that the applications are taking a long time and creating uncertainty for local authorities and for developers.

“But I’ve had no sense whatsoever that there is a desire to lighten the regulatory burden.”

The Government has also suggested the creation of a planning brokerage service to provide guidance to fracking firms and local authorities “to help facilitate timely decision-making”.

Ms Perry described as “nefarious” suggestions the brokerage service will be set up to give firms “reasons to get round legislation and planning guidance we’re bringing in”, adding: “I completely reject that”.

The Minister also urged caution in “singling out” a report from former Downing Street adviser Professor Peter Styles which will be launched today.

Prof Styles and said earthquakes could be triggered by fracking in coalfield areas of Yorkshire and other parts of the UK.

Ms Perry said: “There may always be academic debate but I think we must be very careful to single out any particular report.”