Communities facing fracking for shale gas – or the possibility of it – criticised the planning system at a meeting in the Houses of Parliament this afternoon.
Statements from North Yorkshire and Lancashire condemned the process for failing to take account of local opinion.
The statements were read out at the meeting of a parliamentary group investigating shale gas planning and regulation.
One was from Paul Wicks, the former chairman of the parish council at Kirby Misperton, where Third Energy was given planning permission last month to frack an existing well. The parish council had objected to the application. After the decision Mr Wicks resigned saying he did not want to be part of a system that approved Third Energy’s plans despite 4,000+ objections.
In his statement, Mr Wicks said:
“The system prevents councils from making decisions based purely on the best interests of the public by creating a bureaucratic process that only allows “material considerations” to be taken into account when making decisions that affect so many.”
The other statement was from groups representing people living around Cuadrilla’s proposed fracking sites at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road in the Fylde area of Lancashire. Last year, Lancashire County Council refused Cuadrilla permission to frack at both sites. The company appealed and, following a public inquiry before an inspector, the Secretary of State will make a decision on the applications, probably this summer.
The community groups accused the government of an ideological commitment to fracking and criticised the lack of community participation in the Secretary of State’s decision. Their statement said:
“We do recognise that the government thinks that shale gas is going to be an energy bonanza and that the Secretary of State would like to be able to make decisions on nationally significant infrastructure. But in this case we feel that we are being given the run-around because of an ideological commitment to fracking.
“We have asked repeatedly to speak to the process, including inviting the Secretary of State, Greg Clark to meet with us and discuss the decision his department will be making, and have received no response.
“Isn’t the government making a mockery of that entire planning process if they can just call in these applications and deny people like us a voice in the process?”
Louise Barr, the Deputy Director of planning, infrastructure and environment at the Department of Communities and Local Government, told the meeting comments raised by the public on planning issues would be taken into account. But she said decisions would be taken on planning considerations.
Resistance likely to fracking, says North Yorks MP
Kevin Hollinrake, the chair of the parliamentary group, warned that resistance to fracking was likely if local people felt companies were in control of the planning process.
He said people were worried about the prospect of hundreds of wells in a square kilometre. He said it was unclear from planning guidance how many wells would be too many and how many too few.
Ms Barr told the meeting that the cumulative impact of shale gas sites would be taken into account for individual applications and in the preparation of a local minerals plan.
Despite this, Mr Hollinrake told the meeting:
“I am sure my local residents will still be concerned because they don’t understand how their countryside is going to be affected by that statement. That’s what they concerned about.
“They are certainly worried that producers might end up in charge of this process and drive a coach and horses through the planning process with the back-up of an independent inspector or the Secretary of State, [and] that they cannot hold back the proliferation around the countryside.
“Unless we give people that reassurance then we’re going to see resistance on environmental grounds.”