Councillors in Lancashire have urged the local government secretary, Greg Clark, to take no part in the decision on planning appeals over fracking in the county.
Mr Clark (left) said last month he would make the final ruling on whether Cuadrilla should be allowed to frack up to eight wells at two sites in the Fylde near Blackpool. DrillOrDrop report
But at a full meeting of Lancashire County County yesterday (17th December 2015) a majority of members agreed that this would be “inappropriate” because the Secretary of State was a member of the cabinet that had a policy in favour of fracking.
The council voted to approve a motion that Mr Clark’s involvement would amount to pre-determination.
The motion, by Chorley Labour councillor, Steven Holgate (left), instructed the council chief executive to write to Mr Clark and David Cameron, informing them of Lancashire’s opinion.
Planning guidance warns councillors that they must not pre-determine a decision and they must approach it with an open mind. However, the Localism Act 2011 says decision-makers can give views on an issue or even campaign on it without being said to have a closed mind.
After the meeting, Gina Dowding, the Green Party councillor for Lancaster Central, said:
“This issue of predetermination is used all the time to control councillors on the planning committee to make sure they don’t say anything in advance and are seen to be completely transparent unbiased and neutral about what is put before them in the committee.
“So in effect – the motion says – what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”
In September, the Energy Secretary Amber Rudd made statement to parliament in which she said the government considered there was “a clear need to seize the opportunity now to explore and test our shale potential”.
On the same day, Greg Clark announced that shale gas plans would be added to the list of planning appeals that he could “recover”, which meant he could make the final decision. He also said he would “actively consider” calling in shale planning applications and he would rule on applications that had been made to councils which did not make decisions within a statutory 16-week limit.
Cuadrilla’s Lancashire appeals will be considered at a public inquiry in Blackpool in February. A planning inspector will make a recommendation to Mr Clark, who will then make the final decision.
We have asked the Department of Communities and Local Government for a comment on the motion. We’ll add this when we receive it.
The full motion to Lancashire County Council read:
Lancashire County Council has spent significant time and resources ensuring that the process of determining planning applications on Fracking in Lancashire has been open, transparent and well informed.
The Development Control Committee received evidence and opinion from organisations both in favour of and opposed to Fracking, as well as from local resident groups, local businesses and public health professionals.
Whilst national government is rightly entitled to take a view and determine national policy regarding energy, we believe that the determination of individual planning applications should remain with the County Council as it is best able to consider local planning issues.
The Secretary of State is a member of a cabinet with a clear policy in favour of Fracking and he has made statements in favour of Fracking. It is therefore inappropriate for him to determine the planning appeals on Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road in Lancashire because of clear evidence of pre-determination.
Lancashire County Council requests that the Secretary of State takes no part in the final determination of the Preston New Road or Roseacre Wood appeal decisions.
Council instructs the chief executive of Lancashire County Council to write to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State informing them of the opinions of the County Council.