The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has changed its policy on fracking and called for a moratorium unless shale gas extraction secures “radical reductions” in carbon emissions.
In a policy note issued this month, the organisation also said fracking should be banned unless it could be shown that it would not damage the countryside.
CPRE said fracking must be controlled by “effective regulation” and “democratic planning”, which were adequately resourced, locally and nationally.
The statement takes a much tougher line than a policy guidance note issued in November 2013, which said CPRE did not oppose the exploitation of shale gas and was seen as backing for government policy on fracking.
The latest note said to avoid a moratorium, it must be clearly demonstrated that fracking would:
“Help secure the radical reductions in carbon emissions required to comply with planning policy and meet legally binding climate change targets;
Not lead to unacceptable cumulative harm, whether for particular landscapes or on the English countryside as a whole, and
Be carefully controlled by effective systems of regulation and democratic planning, which are adequately resourced at both local and national levels.”
“Inconceivable fracking will help carbon reduction”
CPRE said if it were possible prevent leaks from shale extraction, domestically produced gas could result in lower greenhouse gas emissions compared with gas imported by tanker, though not by pipeline.
But the policy paper said investment to extract shale could divert funding from energy efficiency, storage technologies and renewable energy.
It said “a significant gap” was due to open up between predicted emissions and the UK’s binding targets in the 2020s.
“It is becoming almost most inconceivable that fracking would help rather than hinder the challenge of meeting these vital targets”.
It called for a moratorium until the government’s Emissions Reduction Plan was published and independently assessed. It said any shale wealth fund should fund carbon capture and storage, as well as local landscape enhancements, rather than induce communities to support fracking.
“Temporary use of land”
CPRE said shale gas production pads could last 20 years. But they were still classed as temporary use of land in planning policy.
There was a risk, it said, that without successful restoration the change of use could become permanent:
“Developers could seek to argue that they should be treated as previously developed land, hence suitable for building on”.
CPRE said if fracking were approved, there should be restoration conditions backed by guarantees or bonds so that sites could not be considered as brownfield land.
The document raised concerns about the quality of decision-making for fracking developments and appeared to contradict ideas in the Conservative manifesto for taking decision-making out of local authority control.
CPRE said mineral planning authorities [MPAs] were finding it more challenging to make decisions on fracking, because of cuts in funding and lack of staff with relevant experience.
UK environmental regulators had seen recent cuts in staff and since December 2016, they were compelled to prioritise economic growth in their work.
CPRE added that decisions were being taken over more actively by ministers, following a change in planning law in 2015. And the proposed Shale Wealth Fund, which could include direct financial inducements to local residents, could be seen as an attempt to influence local opinion.
CPRE said any appeals against refusal of planning permission should be decided by the planning inspectorate, not ministers.
“Environmental regulators and MPAs should be adequately resourced and not compelled to prioritise economic growth or meet unrealistic decision deadlines, so that they can be credible in applying the precautionary principle regarding environmental impact.”
“Protect rural roads from becoming lorry lanes”
CPRE said heavy goods vehicles serving fracking pads would have the main impact on the tranquillity of the countryside. Rural roads were a defining feature of the English countryside, it said, linking communities and providing opportunities for leisure and tourism.
“It is critical that MPAs [mineral planning authorities] are empowered to protect this important resource from being turned into lorry lanes”.
The organisation said if fracking went ahead, the cumulative impact should be frequently assessed at national level, particularly for the impacts of HGV traffic.