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Written Statements

Monday 28 July 2014

Civil Service Commission: Triennial Review

Statement

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): In accordance with the guidance on triennial reviews for public bodies, the Government has asked Sir Gerry Grimstone to lead a review of the Civil Service Commission.  This will be the first review of the Commission’s status and role since its creation in statute in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.

The review’s purpose will be to establish the continuing need for the Commission, and to examine its scope of responsibilities.  In particular the review will consider the Commission’s current and any possible future role in assuring the following aspects of the Civil Service: leadership and stewardship; capabilities; performance management; and upholding standards.  The review’s terms of reference have been placed in the library of the House.

Sir Gerry will seek advice and challenge from a wide range of individuals, including ex-Ministers, ex-Senior Civil Servants, and the Government’s Non-Executive Directors. The review will report in the Autumn.

TERMS OF REFERENCE 1. Civil Service Commissioners were first appointed a year after the Northcote-Trevelyan report of 1854 as a guarantor of its principles of professionalism, impartiality and meritocracy. The Commission was given statutory underpinning in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act of 2010. The Triennial Review should swiftly verify that the requirement for the Commission as set out in that Act persists.2. It should then review whether its remit should be extended or amended to ensure that the challenges the Civil Service faces today are being properly addressed.  This would include, but not be limited to, the following areas: capabilities; upholding standards; performance management; and leadership and stewardship.

Energy: Gas and Oil Licences

Statements

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): This Coalition Government believes that shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs. Effective exploration and testing of the UK’s unconventional gas resources is key to understanding the potential for this industry so the Government is creating the right framework to accelerate unconventional oil and gas development in a responsible and sustainable way.

That is why this Coalition Government has put in place an effective planning system to support unconventional oil and gas production in this country.

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We have amended regulations to streamline notification requirements and the calculation of fees to speed up the determination of planning applications, whilst ensuring the public are properly informed of planning applications in their locality. We have also updated planning guidance on oil and gas development to provide clarity on the role of the planning system and we have introduced a streamlined common application form to ensure less onerous requirements on the industry. Other regulators, including the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive will address sub-surface issues to protect against seismic disturbance or pollution of groundwater. Close working between all regulatory bodies will ensure that there remains a robust, comprehensive and safe regulatory regime in place.

To further the exploration and testing of our unconventional gas resources, the Department of Energy and Climate Change is today inviting applications for new onshore licences in the area defined in the Strategic Environmental Assessment which has been conducted for further onshore licensing. More details are outlined in today’s Written Ministerial Statement by Baroness Verma.

It is important to note that this Coalition Government recognises there are areas of outstanding landscape and scenic beauty where the environmental and heritage qualities need to be carefully balanced against the benefits of oil and gas from unconventional hydrocarbons. For this reason, my Department is today making clear our approach to planning for unconventional hydrocarbons in National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites, by providing some additional planning guidance. Proposals for such development must recognise the importance of these sites. The guidance is available on the Minerals section of the Government’s planning guidance website at: http://planningguidance.planning portal.gov.uk/ and a copy of the new section has been placed in the Library of the House.

We want to ensure that the Government’s intentions in respect to development concerning unconventional hydrocarbons in these areas are given appropriate effect. So for the next 12 months from today, in applying the Secretary of State’s policy on recovering planning appeals (as stated in 30 June 2008, Official Report, House of Commons, Column 43WS), my Department will give particular attention to recovering appeals for such developments. The position on the recovery of appeals will be reviewed after 12 months.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma): I am pleased to inform the House of the outcome of the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) which has been conducted for further onshore licensing.

This Coalition Government believes that shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs. Effective exploration and testing of the UK’s unconventional gas resources is key to understanding the potential for this industry so the Government is creating the right framework to accelerate unconventional oil and gas development in a responsible and sustainable way.

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The last round of onshore licensing, the 13th, was conducted in 2008, and the Department began preparations in 2010 for a 14th Round. However, these were interrupted when two seismic tremors were triggered in April and May of 2011 by fracking operations at Preese Hall in Lancashire. Work on the SEA was resumed following the introduction of new control measures against seismic risks, and a new Environmental Report was published on 12 December 2013 for public consultation. The consultation closed on 28 March 2014, and some 2400 responses were received from a wide variety of bodies, organisations and individuals.

The draft Licensing Plan which is the subject of the Environmental Report proposes to invite applications for further petroleum licences in areas of Great Britain defined in the Report, so far as not already subject to license. Licences confer exclusive rights to explore for and exploit hydrocarbons within a specified area. However the conduct of any such operations would remain subject to all relevant legal permissions and consents, including the requirement for planning permission.

The Report assessed the likely significant effects on the environment of implementing the Licensing Plan, and of two alternative plans which were identified as reasonable. The Report did identify some negative effects with the potential to be significant in particular areas. But it concluded that those effects could be appropriately mitigated or made acceptable through the operation of the appropriate regulatory controls. Overall, the Report suggested that adoption of the Licensing Plan might be the most appropriate choice.

Responses to the consultation in general did not support that approach. There was strong support for the exclusion from licensing of environmentally sensitive sites, and in particular National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites. Representations were also made on two legal issues: first, that the Environmental Report had taken into account certain economic benefits which were not proper to an SEA; and second, that no Habitats Assessment had been done.

As regards the first of the legal issues, I am advised that the legal arguments put forward cannot be regarded as settled. However, in the interests of removing any question of doubt about the basis of the decisions which are made and of avoiding further delay in the opening up of further licensing opportunities, I have decided that, in considering the environmental effects of the proposed licensing, I should disregard the economic benefits which have been questioned.

On the second of the legal issues, the Environmental Report makes clear that DECC will perform appropriate assessments, in full accordance with the requirements of European law, in respect of the area proposed for the award of any individual licence, before that award is made. Sites designated as being of international interest will therefore be given appropriate protection, in accordance with the relevant Directives; and where necessary to meet the requirements of the Directives, they will be excluded from licensing.

As to the proposals to exclude other categories of sensitive sites, the Government recognises the degree of concern which has been evidenced in the responses to the consultation. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

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(Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for DCLG) has today made clear the approach to planning for unconventional hydrocarbons in National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites. This recognises there are areas of outstanding landscape and scenic beauty where the environmental and heritage qualities need to be carefully balanced against the benefits of oil and gas from unconventional hydrocarbons. The guidance is available on the Minerals section of the Governments planning guidance website [see http://planningguidance.planning portal.gov.uk/]

And as regards the issue of licences, we accept the recommendations of the Environmental Report that licence applicants should be required to submit a Statement of Environmental Awareness to demonstrate their understanding of environmental sensitivities relevant to the area proposed for licence, and to set out options for addressing those and their approach to establishing the eventual plan for operations. In addition to the requirements proposed in the Environmental Report, the guidance for applicants will make clear that DECC will require these Statements to be particularly comprehensive and detailed where the areas applied for are in or adjacent to any National Park, the Broads, or any Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or World Heritage Site; and that applicants should demonstrate, in particular, their understanding of the implications for unconventional hydrocarbon development in the areas applied for of the following aspects of the planning guidance—

that in National Parks, the Broads, and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, mineral planning authorities should give great weight to conserving their landscape and scenic beauty, and to the conservation of wildlife and cultural heritage;that applications which represent major developments in those areas should be refused, except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated that they are in the public interest;that where a proposed development would lead to substantial harm to or loss of a World Heritage Site, mineral planning authorities should refuse consent unless wholly exceptional circumstances apply.

DECC will assess all statements on the basis of the comprehensiveness of the issues addressed; the depth of understanding demonstrated of the relevant environmental sensitivities and heritage factors, and the provision of options for addressing these; adherence to good analytical and assessment practice; and access to expertise. Unless DECC is satisfied on these matters, the application will be rejected.

Many other issues and concerns, for the most part outside the scope of the Licensing Plan, were expressed in the responses to the consultation. A detailed summary of the issues raised is set out in a full Post Adoption Statement which will be placed on the DECC website. The Post Adoption Statement also provides responses on all the concerns which have been raised.

Taking account of the assessments made in the Environmental Report - subject to the disregarding of certain economic benefits as I have mentioned - and taking account of the opinions expressed through the

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public consultation, I have decided to adopt the Licensing Plan, subject to the mitigation measures proposed in the Environmental Report.

The full reasons for those decisions are set out in the Post Adoption Statement, which also sets out further detail of how environmental considerations have been integrated into the Plan, how the Environmental Report and the opinions expressed in the public

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consultation have been taken into account in the decisions which have been made, and of the measures for monitoring the implementation of the Plan.

I am therefore announcing today that we are inviting applications for new onshore licences in the area defined in the SEA, which should be submitted by 23 October 2014. Full details of the application process are provided on the DECC website.