Former planning minister backs local decisions on fracking

Brandon LewisThe 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.


Tim Farron (right) with Karen Garrett and Rt Rev Graham Cray in Kirby Misperton. Picture: Thirsk and Malton Liberal Democrats

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


23 replies »

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. The problem is – legislation and planning policy has been introduced to favour fracking. This makes it harder for local authorities to object and if they do they may have to fight a costly appeal when they may consider that the odds have been stacked against them. And at a time when budgets have been slashed. The government should back off completely and afford local communities the right to influence decisions – just as they have with wind turbines. Exercising call in powers, putting local authorities under pressure to determine complex applications within 16 weeks or the government may step in, along with legislative and policy changes undermines democracy. And most mineral and waste plans don’t even cover fracking – so a completely unacceptable situation.

    • Nimbys will never vote in favor of any industrial infrastructure unless it immediately benefits them directly. This is why the government instituted Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project rules. Onshore gas extraction is without a doubt of national significance, and the government is aware of it. Sometimes the country needs things for the greater good that no one wants in their backyard – rail lines, high voltage electric lines, sewage treatment facilities, highways, gas extraction operations, power plants, etc. and locals have to put up with it. In this case, the local populations will be better off because they and their communities will be compensated, the facilities are not especially obtrusive, jobs and wealth will be injected into local communities, and the air will be cleaner as well. Best of luck!

      • Peeny – You say “the local populations will be better off because they and their communities will be compensated, the facilities are not especially obtrusive, jobs and wealth will be injected into local communities, and the air will be cleaner as well.”

        I’m not going to bother with the silly claims about compensation, jobs and wealth – we’ve done them to death but please explain how the air in the Fylde will be cleaner whilst they are fracking here.

        Best of luck with THAT one!

        • This isn’t rocket science, John. We’ve been over it a million times. In the US, the air is cleaner, the jobs are better, the wealth is greater, and the people living near fracking sites are compensated. It’s a different payment arrangement than in the UK, but the end result is likely to be similar. So, I don’t have to rely on conjecture and biased opinion, as you do, I rely on ACTUAL EXPERIENCE, hard data, and science. This is why I am winning, John.

          • ‘This is why I am winning’

            Another classic from those who don’t even know where the UK gets it’s gas from.

            The first shale gas applications to frack were in 2010. It is now 2016. In UK years that is 6 years with no commercial gas, a string of technical failures, and the industry itself stating production costs higher than market price. Tens of thousands opposing the industry and top legal teams ready to work against any development.

            World war two was fought and finished in less time than the UK shale gas ponzi scheme has not managed to produce any gas.

            In the UK we call that losing rapidly.

            • John, 200 wells have been fracked in the UK, so your statement is totally inaccurate. Also, INEOS is on record saying that shale gas is absolutely viable. The cost data you are quoting is years old and is stale. Keep up my man!

              UK shale gas ponzi scheme, LOL. Funny!

              • 1 well has been fracked into shale in the UK. Try and grasp the basics.

                I am glad you mentioned INEOS and viability. Please show the production cost figures from the Ineos shale team and we can compare them to today’s market price (just to clarify. In the UK the word ‘today’ does not mean a year or two ago) They are obviously available so lets have a look.

                What do you say to the fact that the industry appointed shale gas representative has quoted figures to the house of lords energy select committee which show that shale gas is not viable at today’s prices. What do you say about the fact at EY, Bloomberg, Oxford Institute of Energy Studies, and Centrica (who are investors in UK shale) have all stated production costs of UK shale which is higher than it’s value.

                ‘The cost data you are quoting is years old and is stale’. The above data is a few years old. Since then oil and gas prices have fallen and the industry has further expenses from proposals of ‘gold standards’, green completion, and payments to communities. Looks like production costs are on the up and the value of the product down.In the UK we use the terminology ‘A bad investment’ to describe the current UK shale gas prospect.

                I believe a UK ponzi scheme to be a scheme where the value of the product is lower than the cost of the product but the people who run the scheme do not mention that fact to the people who lend them the money in the first place.

                The above public ally available facts above would indicate that a UK shale gas industry at today’s prices is a ponzi scheme.

                • John, with all due respect, you live in “la la land” if you think production costs are up. In the last year alone costs have dropped by 40% at some companies.

                  The Ineos people and many market participants are willing to put hundreds of millions of pounds to work exploiting gas resources because they believe they are economically viable. That says it all, my man.

                  So, you can blather on about cost estimates that were given years ago and that were undoubtedly inflated so to downplay margins to the government, but I say “let’s see what the capital markets have to say.” Because John Powney can have tantrum after tantrum and call the industry a ponzi all he wants, but if the people who count (those who understand the industry and have lots of money to invest) believe that shale is economically viable, they will invest.

                  Best of luck John!! LOL

    • Does anyone think Ruth will cover this story: http://www.ohio.com/blogs/drilling/ohio-utica-shale-1.291290/shale-fracking-added-nearly-115-000-jobs-10-billion-in-ohio-study-says-1.713730

      Apparently Ohio alone has added over 115k jobs and $10bn in its short stint with fracking. That’s little Ohio that isn’t even a very big shale state compared to PA or TX. Cleaner air, more good-paying jobs, massive wealth, low cost energy – what an amazing success story for Ohio! Just imagine what the industry could do for the UK!

    • The 2016-2021 National Infrastructure Delivery Plan places the decision making process with the local communities

      Chapter 13.6 Devolution Revolution

      Whilst the government has a leading role to play in delivering nationally significant
      infrastructure within regions, local people know their own needs and economies best
      and should be involved in determining what gets built. To achieve this the government
      is creating a devolution revolution, with power being transferred from Whitehall to the
      regions, handing decision making and increased influence over infrastructure investment
      and delivery to the people who will use and benefit from it.

      We don’t need shale and we don’t want it.That is the decision we have made.

  2. And as for local decisions in North Yorkshire – Ryedale District Council recommended refusal of Third Energy’s application and there wasn’t even one Councillor on the planning committee from Ryedale – so some may question how “local” was the decision!

  3. So, democracy undermined at regional level despite overwhelming objections to frack KM8 locally and beyond. Corporate interests prevail, get out there and object in person folks, refuse access, stand in front of a truck seems to be our only available response.

  4. This is significant for Lancashire where LCC actually refused planning permission at both sites. Over 13,000 objections to Cuadrilla’s plans for each site and only 200 letters of support! Our own MP has also called on teh government to respect local decision makers. Will they listen? Hopefully. If not, this is a travesty for local democracy.
    In my opinion, NYCC were wrong to approve fracking at Kirby Misperton despite overwhelming evidence of harm and public opposition. I hope they succeed in their JR.

  5. Lewis was the only member of the panel to support fracking – he had obviously not done his homework on KM8 despite being a cheerleader for the industry or he would have known that there was no local county council member in the North Yorkshire CC planning committee. Not quite sure how he thought over 4,000 letters of objection and only 36 in favour represented local democracy. I think he may have been talking to our friend Kevin!

  6. Dear Ruth, With due respect and as a convinced opponent of fracking, I think this post is a misrepresentation. Your opinion might be different. It was in the context of a conviction that the planning authority had done its homework and scrupulously researched objections in order to a arrive at a sensible, reasoned decision at variance with the wishes of the electorate as expressed, that Brandon uttered his opinion. This of course is precisely what we in FFR maintain did NOT happen when the authority made its decision. Rather, the authority, I believe, had approached the debate with its mind made up…..difficult, I know, to prove. Altogether, the posting sends out a rather mixed message. Kind regards, and thanks for all your excellent contributions to the debate



    Sent from my iPad


  7. “The former planning minister, Brandon Lewis, said tonight he believed decisions on shale gas should be made by local people, through their local authority.” So why didn’t he change the Planning Regulations to reflect this? The problem LPAs have is that they have to make decisions in accordance with Planning Regs – otherwise developers will appeal and generally win. Local Councillors may object to / refuse applications which are recommended to be approved by Planning Officers (in accordance with Planning Regs which is their job). This is understandable as the Councillors are local, are elected by local people, and generally listen to their constituents. The problem is that Planning Regs and “Localism” are contradictory. Mr. Lewis should have / should be resolving the differences between the two. It may be that if localism prevails, there is no need for planning regulation?

  8. Also my comments above are supported by the proposed Kirby Misperton Judicial Revue – which according to the Guardian / FOE is being brought for the following reasons:

    “FoE said it would argue that the decision was unlawful because the councillors did not properly consider the environmental impact of burning any gas extracted to create electricity. It said it would also argue that the council failed to secure long-term financial protection against environmental damage.”

    No mention of localism, number of objections, local opinion etc. – probably because these are not a consideration in Planning Regulation? This is the area which needs resolving.

    • ‘No mention of localism, number of objections, local opinion etc. – probably because these are not a consideration in Planning Regulation? This is the area which needs resolving.’

      For once we agree 🙂

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