The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has refuted claims it is guilty of double standards after announcing new measures to fast-track shale gas extraction planning applications.

The new measures have been widely condemned but in a statement issued to Solar Power Portal this morning DECC said it “needed to ensure decision making happens quickly and effectively” to prevent a “potentially vital national shale industry” from failing to get off the ground.

“Different technologies have different impacts and different policy considerations and so may be dealt with in a different way. Local people have exactly the same opportunity to comment and present their views on shale applications as they do for any other planning applications,” a DECC spokesperson added.

The department confirmed in a joint statement issued yesterday with the Department for Communities and Local Government that it was to clamp down on local councils that “repeatedly fail” to decide on oil and gas applications within the statutory timeframe of 16 weeks.

The new process would allow communities secretary Greg Clark to intervene and potentially pass judgement himself with the government seemingly irritated by individual cases dragging on.

When Lancashire Council refused oil and gas conglomerate Cuadrilla permission in June, it brought an end to a planning application that had been dragged out for longer than year. Cuadrilla agreed with a number of extensions to the process, but repeatedly complained and is now set to appeal the rejection.

Both Clark and energy secretary Amber Rudd sought to justify the new measures by asserting that shale gas was a national priority and formed part of the government’s plan to “decarbonise the economy”.

“To ensure we get this industry up and running we can’t have a planning system that sees applications dragged out for months, or even years on end… We now need, above all else, a system that delivers timely planning decisions and works effectively for local people and developers,” Rudd said.

Clark echoed Rudd’s sentiments, commenting that “no one benefits from uncertainty” which he said had been caused by delays in planning. “By fast tracking any appropriate applications today’s changes will tackle potential hold ups in the system,” he added.

However the government’s plans have been widely condemned due to the perceived contradiction between its new stance on fracking applications and the tone previously taken on renewable energy projects.

“The contrast between government's view that local councils should be 'masters of their own destiny' and the new provisions announced today is staggering,” said Daisy Sands, head of campaigns at Greenpeace.

“There is a double standard at play – the same government that is intent on driving through fracking at whatever cost has just given more powers to local councils to oppose wind farms, the cheapest source of clean energy.

“People who love and live in the countryside and who care about climate change will not stand for a government which is riding rough shod over democracy to industrialise our most beautiful landscapes and damage the climate,” she added.

Debbie Marriage, senior consultant at Parker Dann Town Planning Consultancy, said Sands was “absolutely right” to reference the apparent double standard.

“It would seem that this Government has firmly nailed its colours to the mast on where its priorities lie. Whilst solar developers have been burdened with ever greater obstacles to obtaining planning permission, obstacles that have meant applications being 'dragged out for months and even years', a whole different set of planning rules is being applied to the shale gas industry,” she said.

Marriage also referenced how Rudd’s predecessor Greg Barker wrote to local planning authorities in April last year to assert that local communities must be properly heard when ruling over solar installations.

“Sixteen months on and DECC is once again writing to LPAs, this time to implore upon them that there is national need to explore shale in a safe, sustainable and timely way. This at a time when the future of the large–scale commercial rooftop and ground mounted solar industry has been all but annihilated,” she added.

Friends of the Earth planning adviser Naomi Luhde-Thompson attacked the proposals as well and claimed they would “simply fan the flames of mistrust and opposition”.

“Rather than riding rough shod over local democracy to suit the interests of a dirty industry, ministers should champion real solutions to the energy challenges we face, such as boosting the UK’s huge renewable power potential and cutting energy waste,” she said.

Richard Black, director at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, meanwhile took umbrage with how both departments stressed the importance of fast-tracking fracking applications for the good of the environment.

“If shale gas replaces coal or oil that will reduce emissions, but if it slows the growth of renewables or nuclear that could put emissions up – and even for coal replacement, you only gain a carbon saving if leakage rates are kept to virtually zero.

“Just describing shale gas as 'low carbon' doesn't make it so, and the government ought to be making clear how it expects the gas to be used and what leakage rates it will allow,” he said.