East Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman Roy Beggs has supported the removal of Permitted Development Rights for petroleum exploration following a Department for Infrastructure public consultation which saw 98.9% of responses agree with the move. Mr Beggs, is a member of the Infrastructure Committee who heard official Angus Kerr recently update members on the issue at Stormont.
Roy Beggs MLA said “The removal of Permitted Development Rights (PDR) for Petroleum Exploration is long overdue. Lessons needed to be learned following the debacle at Woodburn, where PDR allowed exploration in a water catchment area for the local reservoirs. This added risks to maintaining the public water supply . I am pleased that public opinion is now being embraced by the Department.”
Angus Kerr, a Department for Infrastructure official speaking at the Committee said “I will start with mineral exploration and removing the PD rights for oil and gas exploration. Members will remember that a call for evidence and subsequent public consultation which took place for these proposals was really prompted by the controversy over the exploratory drilling at Woodburn forest in Carrickfergus. At the time, we consulted on two options to remove permitted development rights for oil and gas exploration. Option one was basically to remove all PD for exploratory boreholes. Option two was to remove PD rights for drilling of boreholes for petroleum exploration, but to continue to allow PD rights for development preparatory to petroleum exploration. Essentially, that would mean that some, more minor drilling of boreholes could be allowed, for example, for groundwater monitoring, seismic monitoring and locating and appraising the condition of mines. We also consulted on three other minor amendments to the minerals PD rights at that time: to extend the 21-day period provided for councils to issue directions restricting permitted development rights to 28 days — to give a little bit more time for that; to introduce a new height restriction of 15 metres for mineral exploration permitted development; and then, finally, to provide a relevant period to ensure that permitted development rights could not be exercised until the council had fully considered the proposed development and decided whether to remove or restrict the rights.
The Committee has been provided with the draft analysis of responses to the consultation. In summary, the Department received quite a large number of responses. There were 281 responses, with 98·9% of responses in favour of removing permitted development rights for petroleum exploration. Consultees were asked whether they would prefer option one or option two. Some 94·5% preferred the option one approach, which was to remove PD for all exploratory boreholes for oil and gas. There was also general support for the three minor amendments that I mentioned earlier. The Department, therefore, is proposing to bring forward amendments to the GPDO in line with option 1, which is to remove permitted development rights for the drilling of all boreholes for petroleum, oil and gas exploration. That will bring Northern Ireland in line with the position in Scotland and Wales. It also lines up with the consultation responses received. The Department is also proposing to bring forward the three technical amendments that I mentioned, but the Department is proposing that the height restriction for any structure assembled should be reduced from 15 metres to 12 metres. That change will keep visual impacts to a minimum, taking into account the nature of the development, its temporary duration and the fact that any structures will be removed either within or at the end of the four-month temporary period that you get for permitted development rights for minerals explorations. That also aligns with the position in Scotland and Wales.”
Mr Beggs MLA speaking at the Committee meeting said “I support the removal of the Permitted Development Rights for petroleum exploration. You mentioned Woodburn. Any council or planning authority that would grant permission for exploration or a drill rig in the catchment area of a reservoir would be laughed at and mocked, frankly. There would be a complete lack of protection for the water supply. I could not see that happening had it not been for this case where they had the Permitted Development Rights to proceed. It is essential that that is removed and not repeated anywhere else in Northern Ireland. I am supportive of what you are doing.”