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Written Statements

Volume 635: debated on Thursday 25 January 2018

Written Statements

Thursday 25 January 2018

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Energy Frameworks

I am today launching a public consultation on the draft national policy statement and supporting environmental appraisals for geological disposal infrastructure for higher activity radioactive waste. I am also laying the draft national policy statement before this House which will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, including review by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee.

A second consultation “Working with Communities” proposes how local people should be engaged if they express an interest in hosting a disposal facility. A facility will only be approved for construction with the consent and support of the local community affected.

In 2014 the Government set out a renewed approach to finding a site to host a geological disposal facility in the “Implementing Geological Disposal” White Paper which was developed following consultation with stakeholders and the public. In it, the Government committed to bringing geological disposal facilities and the deep investigatory boreholes necessary to characterise sites within the definition of nationally significant infrastructure projects and to producing a draft national policy statement for this type of infrastructure in England. The relevant secondary legislation to designate geological disposal facilities and deep investigatory boreholes as nationally significant infrastructure projects was passed in March 2015.

The draft national policy statement sets out a clear route for future planning decisions in respect of geological disposal infrastructure in England, as well as providing planning guidance for developers of such projects and for the Planning Inspectorate and Secretary of State in their consideration and determination of any such applications. The national policy statement will give greater certainty to developers and lead to faster and more transparent delivery of planning decisions. The Government have appointed Radioactive Waste Management Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, to develop this infrastructure. It does not prevent any other developer from bringing forward an application for development consent for a geological disposal facility or deep investigatory boreholes; however, we are not aware of any other developers showing an interest in developing a geological disposal facility and do not expect this to occur.

In this consultation we are actively looking for views and suggestions on the draft national policy statement and the related environmental and sustainability appraisal documents to enable us to meet our objective of delivering a clear planning process for a geological disposal facility in the most effective and efficient way.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks, and will include a series of regional events and technical workshop with interested parties. In parallel with this consultation, we are also running another consultation seeking views on a draft framework for Radioactive Waste Management Ltd’s engagement with willing communities as part of the separate process of finding a suitable site for a geological disposal facility. The approach of working with a willing community to host a geological disposal facility, as set out in the 2014 White Paper, gives communities an opportunity to decide whether or not they wish to proceed with the development of a geological disposal facility. The working with communities policy sets out how Radioactive Waste Management Ltd will work with a community throughout the siting process. Once a community has indicated its support for hosting a geological disposal facility the national policy statement sets out how a geological disposal facility application will be assessed through the planning system. It is important to stress that all the usual opportunities for the public to have a say in the development of a facility like this through planning, safety, security and environmental permitting processes will also be in place.

Planning is a devolved issue and so this draft national policy statement provides the framework for the decision making on development consent applications for geological disposal infrastructure in England only. The planning process in Wales and Northern Ireland is to be decided by their respective Administrations. Scotland has a different policy for the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste.

Following our analysis of the responses to this consultation and the consultation on working with communities and feedback from the Select Committee, we will finalise our policy approach.

The “relevant period” for parliamentary scrutiny of the national policy statement will be from 25 January 2018 to 28 September 2018.

The consultation document and supporting papers will be laid in the Libraries of both Houses.

Today I am also publishing the seventh and latest annual report on the geological disposal programme covering the period April 2016 to March 2017. The report can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/implementing-geological-disposal-annual-report-april-2016-to-march-2017 and I have made available copies in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS427]

Energy Policy

Exploring and developing the UK’s shale gas resources could bring substantial benefits and the Government’s view is that there is a national need to develop these resources in a safe, sustainable and timely way. As set out in the clean growth strategy, the Government are fully committed to the development and deployment of low-carbon technologies for heat and electricity generation. As we move towards this low-carbon economy, natural gas will continue to play an important role in our energy system. The Government are confident that the right protections are in place to explore shale safely and have always been clear that shale development must be safe and environmentally sound.

On 29 November 2017 I issued a direction to the Oil and Gas Authority. This direction closed a loophole in instances where prospective shale gas wells had been drilled prior to the Infrastructure Act 2015 coming into force. It ensures that all operators proposing to hydraulically fracture a well are subjected to the same rigorous final step of scrutiny.

Third Energy UK Gas Ltd’s proposals to hydraulically fracture its site in Kirby Misperton, north Yorkshire, have been referred to me as a result. I am committed to ensuring that a meticulous approach, rooted in rigorous evidence, is taken when reviewing the application.

Having given careful consideration to the evidence submitted, I have informed the Oil and Gas Authority today that I am satisfied that the 13 technical requirements set out in section 4A of the Petroleum Act 1998 have been met.

I also consider that an equivalent assessment should be undertaken of the financial resilience of companies proposing to carry out hydraulic fracturing operations so that stakeholders can have confidence in the company’s ability to meet its commitments.

I note that as of 24 January Third Energy UK Gas Ltd and other related companies had yet to submit their accounts for the accounting period ending in December 2016, despite a statutory deadline of 30 September 2017 for them to do so. I have therefore asked the Oil and Gas Authority to seek further financial information from the company, including the required set of up-to-date accounts, to inform my decision.

I have also asked the Infrastructure and Projects Authority to assess the financial resilience of the applicant, including its ability to fund decommissioning costs. Once I have received this assessment I will inform the Oil and Gas Authority whether I am satisfied with the application as required by the 1998 Act.

The Government consider that the financial resilience of a company wishing to hydraulically fracture is a relevant consideration. As a matter of policy, we will therefore look at the financial resilience of all companies wishing to carry out hydraulic fracturing operations alongside their application for hydraulic fracturing consent.

[HCWS428]

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

Agriculture and Fisheries Council will take place on 29 January in Brussels.

As the provisional agenda stands, the primary focus will be information from the European Commission on “The Future of Food and Farming”, looking towards the next cycle of the common agricultural policy.

The Bulgarian presidency will present its work programme for the remainder of this term, finishing at the end of June. The European Commission will update the Council on the situation in EU agricultural markets, and on trade-related agricultural issues.

There are currently three items scheduled under “any other business”:

situation in the sugar market after the abolition of the quota system

situation in the pig-meat market

conclusions from the ministerial conference on Xylella fastidiosa (Paris, 1 December 2017).

Until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. The outcome of these negotiations will determine what arrangements apply in relation to EU legislation in future once the UK has left the EU.

[HCWS426]

Home Department

Review of Terrorism Legislation

In accordance with section 36(5) of the Terrorism Act 2006, Max Hill QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, has prepared a report on the operation in 2016 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and part 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006.

I am today laying this report before the House, and copies will be available in the Vote Office. It will also be published on gov.uk.

I am grateful to Max Hill for his report. I will carefully consider its contents and the recommendations he makes, and will respond formally in due course.

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