Government denies new law for national parks is “backdoor to fracking”

South Downs NPThe local government minister, James Wharton, denied yesterday afternoon that new legislation would allow fracking in national parks.

He said a new clause to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill would give English park authorities new power to carry out their functions.

James WhartonBut Mr Wharton said the clause, introduced late last month, was “intended to enable a national park to do more and to do it better.”

“They are not a back door to fracking or shale gas development and will not affect the approach that we intend to take in that regard.”

The clause, if approved, would allow an authority to do “anything it considers appropriate for the purposes of the carrying out of any of its functions” and anything it considers appropriate for purposes incidental” to its functional purposes.

“Cast iron guarantee”

Liz McInnesThe shadow local government minister, Labour’s Liz McInnes, called for a “cast iron guarantee” that fracking would not be allowed in national parks. Regulations, currently in draft form, would allow fracking under but not from the surface of national parks. Ms McInnes said:

“This Government have attempted to open up our national parks to fracking, again causing a great deal of concern among the public, who value our precious national assets and have no wish to see them opened up to commercial ventures in that manner.”

“We need strong assurances that the character of our national parks will be protected and that such important national institutions are maintained for the benefit of the public.”

“Misleading red herring”

Bob NeilllThe Conservative Bob Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) accused Ms McInnes of raising “a deeply misleading red herring”. He said:

“The fracking matter has nothing to do with the role of local authorities of any kind—national parks or otherwise —in relation to a general power of competence. Should she not welcome the ability for national parks to enter into joint agreements, for example with their district and county councils, which is precisely what this provision is aimed at? She is actually setting up a complete Aunt Sally in this matter.”

Ms McInnes replied:

“Red herrings, Aunt Sallies: I am merely expressing the unsuitability of the new clause in application to this Bill. It has been brought in at the eleventh hour with the minimum of notice. It raises huge issues. I do not think the general public would agree with the hon. Gentleman that the worry about fracking in our national parks is a red herring.”

“I certainly got a lot of correspondence about it when the Government were talking about it a few weeks ago, and I think we need a proper debate.”

Richard GrahamThe Conservative, Richard Graham (Gloucester), said a campaign had been “whipped up across the country about the possibility of fracking springing up in national parks. He asked:

“Does he think that perhaps the response from the Opposition is influenced in some way by that campaign?”

Mr Neill said the new clause would allow national park authorities to work with local district and county councils to provide services.

“It has nothing whatever to do with applications for planning permission for fracking and with the licensing regime for fracking. It is a sad and sorry day when an important and useful technical amendment is hijacked by one of the more bizarre bits of political boulevardiering that I have ever seen in my time in the Commons.”

“Many people do not trust the Government on fracking”

Clive BettsLabour’s Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) said “everyone gets suspicious about fracking” and the government had bought this on itself. He said:

“Many people do not trust the Government on the issue. They think that, as the Government want to go fracking all over the place and national parks do not, the Government are probably happy to do it and have somewhat brought those suspicions on themselves.”

“Perhaps the Government could make an absolutely clear statement that there is no way in which this proposed new clause gives any extension of planning powers or anything else that could possibly affect fracking in national parks.”

Mr Wharton repeated:

“I wish to clarify that this proposed new clause has no impact on planning as they would affect national parks. It has nothing to do with shale gas extraction, or fracking.”

1 reply »

  1. It is a little hard to take this policy at face value, because the government really are playing in the shadows with fracking. Hopefully enough pressure can be applied to make them reconsider their approach, or at least give a guarantee

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