"A huge mistake for our countryside" - Zac Goldsmith MP
23 November 2018
Fracking is a controversial subject at the best of times – whilst it continues to be supported by the Government, many opposition MPs and sections of the business community, it remains spectacularly unpopular with the general public. And for good reason too – people simply do not want the road traffic, pollution, noise and development in their local area, let alone in some of our most popular and unspoilt countryside spots.
But whatever your views on fracking, the Government’s latest proposals to speed up the planning system are surely a step too far. Under current proposals, so-called “exploratory drilling” could be approved via permitted development - bypassing the standard planning process. Exploratory drilling would, in planning terms, be treated along the same lines as a new conservatory. I hope we can all agree that fracking represents an extensive industrial development rather than a small scale addition to a private property.
Meanwhile, decisions on full-scale fracking could be approved by Westminster via the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project Regime – rather than by elected local councils. This would further dilute the views of local residents who are the ones most impacted by new planning decisions. And with new onshore wind farms now – rightly, in my view – subject to local decision making, we are facing a situation whereby local views are recognised as vital for one type of energy project, but inconvenient for another. That is an asymmetry without any reasonable justification.
These changes would be a huge mistake for our countryside. While fracking is not permitted in the National Parks themselves, it is allowed at the edges and beneath the National Parks – putting at risk the special qualities of these areas.
The arguments for loosening the regulation around fracking remain unpersuasive. The Committee on Climate Change is unconvinced fracking can be done in an environmentally friendly way, and if it is to have a measurable impact on gas prices and our reliance on foreign imports of gas, it will need to happen on a scale that is hugely damaging to the countryside across the UK and risks widespread environmental damage through all the consequential road traffic and pollution. Fracking offers us nothing that justifies bypassing our normal planning regulations.
The planning process simply must have due regard for local concerns. We cannot fast-track this process from central government and I hope the Government will look again at these proposals.
By Zac Goldsmith MP,