On Wednesday, 31st of October, Zac Goldsmith attended a debate in Westminster Hall, chaired by Mark Menzies MP, on the subject of local involvement in shale gas developments. The debate was called in Parliament following the Government’s consultation regarding allowing fracking under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project Regime (NSIP) rather than under the auspices of local planning decision-makers. Concerns were raised by MPs of all parties that such a move would enable Government to bypass local authorities and overrule local concerns.
The consultation on fracking, and the role of the planning decision process, closed on the 25th of October. Under the consultation, the current proposals would grant planning permission for non-hydraulic shale gas exploration through a permitted development right, which would in effect grant an automatic right, removing the requirement for planning permission to be sought. This would only affect exploratory drilling as full fracking would still require permission. Such a move would represent a major shift away from local decision making and would centralise the decision making process for the initial exploratory stages of fracking.
Fracking undoubtedly impacts local communities; who will experience increased traffic as a result of the work in their area and may also experience seismic activity, as has been seen at the Cuadrilla site in Little Plumpton in Lancashire. In the debate, Zac pointed out that the Government’s position with regard to fracking is in stark contrast with their treatment of onshore wind power developments, for which local communities have been given the right to effectively block new developments.
The requirement for planning permission would not prevent fracking from taking place, but it would allow local input by those who will be most affected by it.
Fracking began on the 15th October at the Cuadrilla site in Lancashire; however, the work there has been halted there repeatedly in response to seismic activity in the area. Opposition to the proposals regarding NSIPs has grown in recent weeks. Almost 200,000 people have signed the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s (CPRE) petition demanding that the proposals are dropped and over 11,000 people have contacted their council leaders to ask them to represent the voices of their communities.
In a poll of Conservative Councillors commissioned in July by CPRE and Friends of the Earth, 80% were opposed to the Government’s plans. Additionally, a report from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee in Parliament urged the Government to drop its plans to fast-track fracking and dismissed the Government proposals to do so as ‘hugely harmful.’
Following the debate on Wednesday, Zac has joined the All Party Parliamentary Group on the impact of shale gas, which is chaired in Parliament by Lee Rowley MP, Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire.
Zac said: “Fracking is an issue that has the potential to turn whole regions against the Government. The drilling rigs and pollution, the industrial equipment and sheer volume of trucks all make it an alarming prospect for communities up and down the country. If the Government’s answer is simply to change the planning rules so that even elected local representatives have no say on the issue, then it will have to be prepared for a huge backlash.”