The former planning minister, Brandon Lewis, said tonight he believed decisions on shale gas should be made by local people, through their local authority.
His comments come just days before the expected announcement by the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Sajid Javid, on whether Cuadrilla should be allowed to frack at two sites in Lancashire.
Mr Lewis, now a Home Office Minister, was speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions, broadcast four miles from Third Energy’s fracking site in North Yorkshire.
Questioner David Adam raised the approval of Third Energy’s application by North Yorkshire County Council, despite around 4,000 objections and only 36 comments in support. He asked:
“Given Theresa May’s determination to implement the democratic wishes of the people regarding Brexit should she not be equally determined to respect the wishes of people of Ryedale and beyond and rule out fracking.”
Mr Lewis replied:
“I had two years as the housing and planning minister, so in terms of the decision here locally it is a decision that has been made by locally-elected councillors who are locally democratically accountable as part of a planning process
“The reality is those councillors will have had to have made a decision. When they look at a planning application, they will have to look at all the evidence that is put in front of them, make a decision about what they think is right as locally elected councillors for their area.
“And I think it is absolutely right that these decisions are made by local people and they are made by local people through their local authority, that is how our democratic system works.”
In June last year, Lancashire County Council’s development control committee voted unanimously to refuse Cuadrilla planning permission to frack at Roseace Wood. Members also voted by nine to three with two abstentions against the company’s plans for Preston New Road.
To the dismay of people in Lancashire opposed to fracking, Cuadrilla appealed and the government said the Communities Secretary would make the final decision. An announcement is expected by Thursday 6 October.
Mr Lewis also told the audience:
“We do need to make sure we have the energy the country needs in terms of a whole energy mix, a good energy mix, and fracking can play a very important of that in the wider scale.”
“Bigger issues” – Tim Farron
Mr Lewis was the only panellist in favour of fracking.
The Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, said he had visited Kirby Misperton today and shared concerns of local people about the impact of fracking on the landscape, water supply, tourism and agriculture.
But Mr Farron told the audience said there were bigger issues:
“At this time, when we’ve just signed the Paris Agreement, when we’re trying to tackle the biggest earthly threat we face, what on earth are we doing signing up to yet another fossil fuel?
“There may be some short term benefits but the jobs with shale gas and fracking do not last for any length of time.”
The new Labour peer, Baroness Chakrabarti, said:
“Too many sensible grown-up women who I often listen to have raised concerns about this subject.”
Harsimrat Kaur, member of the Yorkshire and Humber Conservative Policy Forum, said:
“If the water quality issue is going to arise or if scientists say there is a potential of tremors why aren’t we sitting up and listening, why aren’t we researching more, why aren’t we saying actually let’s figure it out together, why aren’t we getting all the answers first before actually going on to do something that is actually going to be quite irreversible.
“If that [local impact] is too great a thing then we shouldn’t be doing it. We should be looking after first our environment and then our people.”
- Any Questions is on the BBC IPlayer. Any Answers, where listeners can respond, is broadcast live on Saturday 24 September at 1.30pm, earlier than its usual 2pm slot.
Updated 24/9/2016 with picture of Tim Farron in Kirby Misperton