Fracking Week in Westminster – w/e 11th December 2015


WestminsterIn this Fracking Week in Westminster:

  • Call for ban on fracking in ancient woodlands
  • Government denies new law would allow “backdoor fracking” in National Parks
  • Fylde MP questions government over Cuadrilla’s fracking appeals
  • Private Members’ Bill on fracking regulation
  • Fracking and TTIP
  • Fracking and the Housing and Planning Bill

Thanks to TheyWorkForYou.com for the transcripts.

Extracts of speeches in a debate on ancient woodlands

10th December 2015

Kevin HollinrakeKevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton
My constituency has 1,400 ancient trees, but we have also had one of the UK’s first applications for shale gas fracking. Will she join me in pressing for a change to include ancient woodland in the protected areas specified by the new Government regulations?

Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane
Rebecca Pow
My hon. Friend’s point is pertinent and one that I hope the Minister will take on board. Fracking in such areas would seriously disturb the glorious biodiversity and we should think seriously about protecting them. He makes an important point.

We might assume that something as precious as ancient woodland would already be protected, but that is not the case—although I am delighted that the Government have stated on many occasions their support for and appreciation of the value of ancient woodland and the need to protect it. Sites of special scientific interest offer protection, but they cover only 17% of ancient woodland. Some ancient woodland comes into areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks, which give extra recognition, but they do not guarantee that the protection cannot be removed for other reasons. The planned High Speed 2 route, for example, threatens many areas of ancient woodland in the Chilterns AONB.

John Mc NallyJohn Mc Nally Scottish National Party, Falkirk
Unfortunately, while some ancient woodland is indeed located within a national park or area of outstanding natural beauty, that is simply not good enough protection to ensure ancient woodland is not impacted by or lost to development. I absolutely agree with Kevin Hollinrake, who mentioned the issue of fracking in such areas.

Julian Lewis, New Forest East, Conservative
Julian LewisI
n principle, it might well be possible to extract valuable energy assets from a long way below the surface even of sensitive areas. We know that hydraulic fracturing may well yield great dividends for our country’s economy, but there are plenty of parts of the United Kingdom where we can master the technology long before we need to bring it anywhere near those particularly precious areas that have been designated as national parks. This is my appeal: the Government should by all means explore fracking technology, but they should make sure that they know what they are doing, by practice and by developing a successful industry based on hydraulic fracturing in less sensitive areas of the country, before approaching anywhere near our ancient woodlands and national parks.

George EusticeGeorge Eustice, Environment Minister
The Government consider that the existing protection for ancient woodland in the NPPF is strong and is protecting our ancient woodlands and veteran trees, but as I said earlier, Members have made some powerful points today. I am sure that my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border, will read the transcript of the debate carefully, and I will relay some of the concerns expressed and proposals made in that spirit.

Extracts of speeches in debate on Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TITP)

10th December 2015

Geraint DaviesGeraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West
On the ISDS [Investor-state dispute settlement], we know that big companies use the powers available to them to sue democratically elected Governments. For example, the Lone Pine fracking company is suing the Canadian Government for hundreds of millions of dollars because Quebec brought out a moratorium on fracking. In a well-known case, Philip Morris is suing Uruguay and Australia over tobacco packaging. The Dutch insurance company, Achmea, is suing the Slovakians for trying to reverse health privatisation. If those powers are available, corporations will use them to maximise profit. Why should they not? That is what they are there to do. I am not saying that they are immoral, because that is what they do and that is what we expect. Our job is to regulate to ensure that the public interest is put first.

PeterLilleyPeter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden
We should be very careful about creating international bureaucracies outside the control of democrats that may prove less responsive to elected Governments but more vulnerable to corporate regulation. The hon. Member for Swansea West raised the specific issues of fracking and GM foods. I am very strongly in favour of fracking, and very strongly in favour of allowing GM to be used; I happen to have the main research institute on that front in my constituency. Ultimately, these decisions should be made democratically. To me, it is far more important that democracy should prevail than that some international bureaucracy should support my prejudices on fracking and GM, as it probably would. It is up to me and people like me in this House to persuade the majority of Members and the majority of the public that something is right, and not to say, “Let’s support an international bureaucracy because it is going to take the decision out of our hands and reach what we think is the right view.”

See also DrillOrDrop report

Written questions

10th December 2015

Mark MenziesQuestion by Mark Menzies Conservative, Fylde
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, what weight he plans to give to the views of people living close to the proposed shale gas well at Roseacre and Preston New Road in the process for considering planning appeals by Cuadrilla Resources to build wells at those sites.

JamesWhartonReply by James Wharton, Communities and Local Government Minister
A planning appeal is a quasi-judicial process, and every application needs to be considered on its individual merits, with due process, in light of the relevant material considerations. To avoid prejudicing the decisions, I should not comment further but can reassure my hon. Friend that all relevant issues identified by local people in the current appeals by Cuadrilla Resources will be given very careful consideration.

Question by Mark Menzies
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, for what reasons he has decided to recover the planning appeals by Cuadrilla Resources to build shale gas wells at Roseacre and Preston New Road.

Reply by James Wharton
The reasons for the Secretary of State’s decision are set out in his letter to parties. This makes clear that the drilling appeals involve proposals for exploring and developing shale gas which amount to proposals for development of major importance having more than local significance and proposals which raise important or novel issues of development control, and/ or legal difficulties.

Question by Mark Menzies
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, what his policy is on pausing planning applications to build shale gas wells until after the Environment Agency has completed its consultation and published guidance for onshore oil and gas operations in the UK.

Reply by James Wharton
There is no policy to delay the determination of shale gas planning proposals pending the completion of the Environment Agency’s consultation on their updated Onshore Oil and Gas Sector Guidance issued on 26 November.

The Government has in place a comprehensive regulatory framework for shale gas development. As part of this, the Environment Agency’s views on schemes can be taken into account by local planning authorities, or by the Secretary of State where relevant, in the determination of planning proposals for shale gas development.

Discussion of the Housing and Planning Bill

10th December

The opposition proposed a new clauses which, it says, would restrict the circumstances in which permission in principle can be applied to brownfield sites for housing and to sites that have already been approved in an adopted local plan for the provision of housing.

Brandon LewisBrandon Lewis, a communities and local government minister
I am very happy to put on the record today that the Government obviously have no intention of allowing, for example, planning in principle to be used for some of the things that I know some people may be concerned about, such as fracking or waste development. However, we want to ensure that the local authorities are able to grant permission in principle for mixed-use developments that promote balanced and sustainable places

8th December

The government inserted clause 112 which gives JPs the right to issue warrants allowing entry on to land that has been compulsorily purchased.

Marcus JonesMarcus Jones, Communities and Local Government Minister
I have set out that the warrants will be used only when the landowner has an adverse reaction to a request to enter and survey or value land. It is clear that many acquiring authorities and landowners will come to arrangements themselves, but the case the hon. Gentleman mentioned of his own railway station is a prime example of when a scheme was being put forward but the landowner completely refused to allow the acquiring authority the right to come on to the land to survey and value it. I expect that he would want some sort of mechanism whereby that acquiring authority would be able to enter the land.

Gareth ThomasGareth Thomas, Labour/Co-operative, Harrow West
Does the Minister have fracking in mind? He shakes his head and looks pained—I recognise that that is a sensitive subject for Conservative Members—but does he envisage a warrant requiring the use of force being needed if protesters had barricaded themselves in, or if the person who owned the land did not want someone who had been given fracking consent to survey what may or may not be underneath the ground?

Marcus Jones
The hon. Gentleman has come up with many conspiracy theories during our scrutiny of the Bill and I suspect that this may well be another one. I have set out the reasoning behind clause 112 in detail and hope that hon. Members will agree to it.

Fracking (Measurement and Regulation of Impacts) (Air, Water and Greenhouse Gas Emissions) Bill

8th December

Geraint Davies, supported by Mike Weir, Jonathan Edwards, Kate Osamor, Tulip Siddiq, Neil Coyle, Caroline Lucas, Chris Evans, Dawn Butler, Mr Mark Williams, Dr Rupa Huq and John Mc Nally presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to measure and regulate the impact of unconventional gas extraction on air and water quality and on greenhouse gas emissions; and for connected purposes. Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 29 January 2016; and to be printed (Bill 105).

Debate on Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill

7th December 2015

The Government has introduced a new clause, 65a, which allows a National Park 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”.

James Wharton, Communities and Local Government Minister
I should make clear to Opposition Front Benchers that those general powers are 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.

Liz McInnesLiz McInnes, Shadow Communities and Local Government Minister
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. We need a cast-iron assurance from the Government that fracking is not going to be allowed in our national parks.

Bob NeilllBob Neil, Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst
Given that national parks are local authorities for these purposes, will the hon. Lady reflect upon what is a complete and deeply misleading red herring that she raises? After all, 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.

Liz McInnes
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.

James Wharton
I do not know whether I could be clearer on this: the debate around fracking is perhaps for another day, but let me be absolutely clear that these clauses will not be a back door to fracking. They do not affect the issue of fracking with regard to national parks. I would also add very clearly that this is something that has been asked for by national parks.

Bob Neill
The troubling thing is this: applications for fracking, licensing matters and all that regime are not governed by a power of general competence in the slightest. The new clause has no effect on fracking of any kind whatever, and I regret to have to say to the hon. Lady that to suggest otherwise is either wilful ignorance or a serious piece of misleading the public.

Richard GrahamRichard Graham, Conservative, Gloucester
Is my hon. Friend aware that quite a campaign has been whipped up across the country about the possibility of fracking springing up in national parks as part of some dastardly plot by the Conservative Government to introduce fracking wherever they can find a national park? Does he think that perhaps the response from the Opposition is influenced in some way by that campaign?

Bob Neill
It [the new clause] 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.

Clive BettsClive Betts
Everyone gets suspicious about fracking. 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.

James Wharton
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. I hope that is clear enough for the hon. Gentleman, and that it will give him some reassurance about our intention, which is to deliver on a request from the national parks.

See also DrillOrDrop report

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