A Conservative government would take some decisions on shale gas drilling plans out of local control.
In the manifesto published this morning, the party said:
- Drilling that did not involve fracking would be classed as permitted development and would not need planning permission
- Major shale planning decisions could be made by a government minister rather than a local council planning committee.
This marks a major change in policy for the Conservatives, who have previously promised “local people know best” and there would be “no compromise” in taking account of the views of local communities.
The party said today it would also establish
- Expert planning functions to support local councils
- A new shale environmental regulator to take over the functions of the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The proposed shale wealth fund would give a greater percentage of tax revenues to communities that host extraction sites, the manifesto added.
The Conservatives are now the only the only major party in the UK to support fracking. Labour and Lib Dem manifestos, published earlier this week, promised to ban or oppose it.
This is a big difference from the 2015 election, when only the Greens promised an outright ban, as it has done again this year.
“We will develop the shale industry in Britain”
The manifesto said the UK could benefit from shale energy in the way it said the United States had, with lower prices, less reliance on foreign imports and lower carbon emissions.
“We will therefore develop the shale industry in Britain. We will only be able to do so if we maintain public confidence in the process, if we uphold our rigorous environmental protections, and if we ensure the proceeds of the wealth generated by shale energy are shared with the communities affected.”
Avoiding planning applications
On changes to the planning rules, the manifesto said:
“Non-fracking drilling will be treated as permitted development”.
Permitted development rights currently allow proposals to be carried out without the need to go through the full planning system.
This would mean that shale gas wells, like the ones to be drilled by IGas in north Nottinghamshire and those proposed by INEOS in Derbyshire would not need to go through a public consultation and get permission from a planning committee.
DrillOrDrop asked Conservative Central Office whether the changes also applied to all other oil and gas developments in non-shale areas. A spokesperson said:
“This is specific to shale”.
Under current rules, permitted development includes drilling boreholes for groundwater monitoring and seismic monitoring.
Permitted development rights are more restricted in some protected areas, including conservation areas, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites.
Local authorities can suspend permitted development rights but they must first notify the Secretary of State, who has the power to modify or cancel their decision.
The manifesto also said it would provide what it called “expert support” to local planning authorities to process planning applications.
But it added:
“When necessary, major shale planning decisions will be made the responsibility of the National Planning Regime.”
There is no definition in the manifesto of “major shale planning decisions” or details of the circumstances in which this would happen.
But DrillOrDrop understands the Conservatives see this measure as a way to reduce delays and costs.
It would allow proposals to be decided as nationally-significant infrastructure projects. They would not go through the current public consultation process and be decided by a local planning committee. Instead, they would go before a public inquiry, at which local people could make representations. A planning inspector would make a recommendation to a government minister, who would make the final decision.
New regulator and shale wealth fund
According to the manifesto, the new shale environmental regulator would:
“Provide clear governance and accountability, become a source of expertise, and allow decisions to be made fairly but swiftly.”
The document also said:
“Finally, we will change the proposed Shale Wealth Fund so a greater percentage of the tax revenues from shale gas directly benefit the communities that host the extraction sites. Where communities decide that it is right for them, we will allow payments to be made directly to local people themselves. A significant share of the remaining tax revenues will be invested for the benefit of the country at large.”
The industry has welcomed the manifesto but the companies’ umbrella group, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, would not comment specifically on the planning changes. Nor would INEOS, which might benefit from them. Campaign groups and other parties have strongly criticised the proposals.
“Domestic shale gas production has the potential to secure the UK’s energy supply by reversing the increasing reliance on gas imports. By using the natural gas we have just a mile under our feet, we ensure that the British public have the means to heat and power their homes for generations. Analysis shows that the industry could also provide around 64,000 UK jobs, so it’s encouraging to see that the Conservative Party is looking towards British home-grown energy for the future. The UK onshore oil and gas industry has always been committed to strong regulatory oversight and the pledge to create a combined Shale Environmental Regulator is an important step in securing and increasing public confidence in our operations.” Ken Cronin, chief executive,
“INEOS Shale welcomes the Conservative Party’s commitment to continue to support shale gas. Today’s manifesto draws a sensible balance between the needs of communities and regulators and the companies’ operational requirements to allow the viability of the UK shale gas industry to be established.”
Frack Free Ryedale
The group, which opposed Third Energy’s plans to frack at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire, said:
“The Conservatives have already proven they are ready and willing to ride rough-shod over local democracy and force fracking on communities where local authorities refuse it.
“They are living in a land of make-believe, cherry-picking information and ignoring proven harms to the ecology, human health and rural economies, which have led to US and Australian states banning fracking.
“Even best-case-scenario fracking would be a travesty for northern England and the Midlands as it would irreversibly industrialise huge parts of the countryside. Any short-term benefits would be dwarfed by long-term negative impacts.
“It is completely irresponsible to claim that the path to lower carbon emissions lies in developing a new fossil-fuel industry, a point which all opposition parties have already refuted. Cleaner than coal does not mean clean.
“Refusing local authorities the right to have a say in the drilling of new wells reeks of desperation, as opposition at this stage is a clear hurdle to fracking development.”
Friends of the Earth
“The mantra of ‘take back control’ will ring hollow for communities who face having fracking forced down their throats and their rights stripped away.
“The Conservatives have comprehensively rejected the siren voices calling for the UK to walk away from its international and domestic commitments to tackle climate change. This sends a strong message to both Donald Trump and opponents of action in the UK. However, far too many of the policies to deliver on this welcome pledge are inadequate or absent.” Dave Timms, campaigner
Frack Free United
The campaign group, which is working to put fracking on the election manifesto, said:
“The Tory manifesto is a car crash for communities and the environment. They are giving a blank cheque to the companies allow them to trample on communities across the country. We should be forward-thinking and looking to the future – and the future is not in fracking.
“The Conservatives have isolated themselves and have aligned themselves with the oil barons.
“This potentially opens up development on the scale of HS2 or Heathrow”
“This Conservative agenda represents an absolute car-crash for the environment, and makes an entirely vacuous contribution to the major environmental challenges of our time. With the UK’s climate targets slipping further out of reach and biodiversity in free fall, it appears Theresa May has decided to bury her head in the sand
“Fracking would be forced on local communities, whilst the dirty and expensive energy of the past will continue to receive lavish public hand-outs. The cheapest and cleanest energy once again loses out.” Caroline Lucas, co-leader
“The Conservative manifesto shows a complete failure to take climate change seriously. It’s never been more urgent to increase renewable energy, yet the Tories are backing more fossil fuels and expanding fracking. The environment and our countryside is simply not safe in their hands” Lynne Featherstone, Lib Dem energy spokesperson
Conservative candidates in front line constituencies
Kevin Hollinrake, Thirsk and Malton
Kevin Hollinrake held the constituency, which includes Third Energy’s shale gas site at Kirby Misperton, in 2015 with a majority over Labour of 19,456.
On his website, the former MP gives this answer to a question about his views on fracking:
“Kevin Hollinrake believes that fracking could provide national solutions to national needs and that it will provide a much needed source of energy. However Kevin is clear that it should only happen if it is safe and has no significant impact on the countryside.”
DrillOrDrop asked for an interview with Mr Hollinrake about his party’s proposed changes to the planning system. We have not received a response.
Mark Menzies, Fylde
Mark Menzies was first elected to Fylde in 2010 with a majority of 13,185, which he repeated in 2015.
His constituency includes Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton.
But his website has made no reference to the start of work at the site in early January or to the daily protests.
Analysis by DrillOrDrop found that he asked the most parliamentary questions about shale gas and fracking in 2016.
DrillOrDrop asked Mr Menzies to comment on the proposed changes to planning for shale gas but we have received no response.
Lee Rowley, North East Derbyshire
Lee Rowley, who came within 1,883 votes of defeating Labour’s Natascha Engel in the 2015 election, opposes the INEOS proposals for a shale gas well at Marsh Lane in the constituency.
In conflict with party policy, he wrote on his website:
“As parliamentary candidate, I do not support this application and, if elected as Member of Parliament, would work with local residents and groups to oppose it.
“The strength of feeling amongst local residents against these proposals is clear and unambiguous: they are rightly concerned regarding the potential impact on the area, the detrimental effect of increased lorries and HGVs on local roads and the effectiveness of the consultation process to date.”
Annette Simpson, Bassetlaw
Annette Simpson, a member of Bassetlaw District Council, is standing in the constituency which includes IGas sites at Tinker Lane and Springs Road, Misson. At the last election, Labour’s John Mann had a majority of nearly 9,000.
Cllr Simpson attends the Community Liaison Groups for the IGas sites.
Links to DrillOrDrop posts on the other party manifestos and candidates.