MPs to investigate whether to take decisions on fracking plans out of local control


171216 KM Eddie Thornton

Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire, 16 December 2017. Photo: Eddie Thornton

A committee of MPs is to examine whether planning applications for fracking in England should be decided by a government minister, rather than local councils.

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee is seeking submissions on whether fracking should be treated as national infrastructure under the 2008 Planning Act.

This is one of the key questions to be addressed by an inquiry launched by the committee earlier this week.

The inquiry will also look at whether the planning guidance to local authorities needs to be updated, improved or brought together in one document.

The Conservative 2017 election manifesto proposed classifying major planning applications for fracking as national infrastructure.

This would allow shale gas companies to apply directly to the Planning Inspectorate, bypassing the local mineral planning authority. Applications would be examined by an inspector and the decision issued by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The proposal was not included in the Queen’s Speech but in December the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, told MPs:

“Major shale gas planning decisions will be the responsibility of the national planning regime.” (DrillOrDrop report)

At the time, a spokesperson for the then Communities and Local Government Department told DrillOrDrop:

“The government is considering how it will bring major shale planning decisions under the national planning regime and will announce our preferred way forward in due course.”

Launching the committee’s inquiry, chair Clive Betts MP (Labour, Sheffield South East) said:

“The debate over fracking has aroused strong views on both sides but with large reserves of shale gas prevalent across northern England, applications for its extraction are only likely to grow over the next few years.

“It’s important all parties, from applicants to local authorities, are clear about the planning process so we will be looking at whether the guidance is adequate or whether the Government could do more to bring all the relevant directions together.

“The guidance needs to be as clear and straightforward as possible so those involved in the decision-making process can judge whether any bids for fracking are in the interests of the local community and the country as a whole.”

Local authorities currently consider planning advice from a range of sources when making their decisions. These include the National Planning Policy Framework, Planning Practice Guidance on mineral extraction, national energy and climate change policies, the Town and Country Planning Act, local plans and rulings made in court cases and public inquiries.

The committee is inviting written submissions on four key issues:

  • Should the guidance be updated and improved?
  • Should there be a comprehensive document incorporating existing and updated guidance?
  • What is the status of government planning guidance?
  • Should applications for fracking be dealt with as national infrastructure under the 2008 Planning Act?

The deadline for written submissions is 14 March 2018.

The committee

The Communities and Local Government Committee has a Labour chair. The remaining members are divided equally between Labour and Conservatives.

Only four of the 11 members of the committee have exploration licences in their constituency : Clive Betts (Labour, Sheffield South East) Mike Amesbury (Labour, Weaver Vale), Kevin Hollinrake (Conservative, Thirsk and Malton) and Jo Platt (Labour, Leigh).

Mr Amesbury (Weaver Vale) spoke against fracking at a meeting in Ellesmere Port last year (DrillOrDrop report). Mr Hollinrake has Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton in his constituency.

Mr Hollinrake said on his website

“I do understand that a large-scale roll out of shale gas would put undue pressure on local authority planning resources, so can appreciate why this might need to be designated Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, as happened previously with large scale onshore wind farms.”

He has also supported the development of national planning guidelines. He has proposed a maximum density of 10 well pads per 100 sq km outside protected areas, minimum separation distances of one mile between a pad and a settlement, school or health facility and a requirement for pads to have direct access or be within half a mile of an A road or good B-road.

Other members of the committee include: Bob Blackman (Conservative, Harrow East), Helen Hayes (Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood), Andrew Lewer (Conservative, Northampton South), Fiona Onasanya (Labour, Peterborough), Mark Prisk (Conservative, Hertford and Stortford), Mary Robinson (Conservative, Cheadle) and Liz Twist (Labour, Blaydon).


Responding to the inquiry, the Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, said:

“The mere suggestion that the pursuit of environmentally-destructive fracking should be an excuse for Government Ministers to ride roughshod over local residents and their representatives is frighteningly anti-democratic. It’s shameful enough that the Tories, in a bid to fast-track, fracking have already done this in places such as Lancashire. The Government is making a total sham of any pretence of localism.”

“In the face of overwhelming local and national opposition across England, the Government is looking for permission to avoid scrutiny over its plans to industrialise our precious countryside – a move all the evidence says is a blatant act of climate sabotage.”

Link to inquiry on planning guidance

  • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced on 30 January 2018 it expected to publish a draft revised National Planning Policy Framework before Easter. Link

Updated 2/2/2018 to include quote from Keith Taylor and correct the number of committee members with exploration licences in their constituency from three to four 

50 replies »

  1. blooming vegans and vegetarians how dare they talk to you like that martin, do they actually come round to your house to say such things or do they shout them at you as you sweep past in your nearly new hybrid
    what is the world coming to?

  2. Most of them do it at dinner parties hrb, without having the ability to identify who else may be around the dinner table, feeling they will get a free ride. (Chlorinated chicken is the other current danger zone with myself in attendance.) I put it down to a dietary deficiency.

    Getting a new hybrid at the end of this month. (Thanks Ponzi.) I wonder if the new model will run on battery if the temperature drops below 3 degrees C? If not, I will just have to trust global warming accelerates, or join refracktion with a diesel stating someone else mislead me, so I’m not to blame. (But hush about DYOR.)

    (Used to work with a vegetarian, absolute lovely lady. Had qualms about how animals were slaughtered (fair enough). When she moved to another company, ended up as a Global Marketing Manager for one of the UKs leading processors of specialist leather! Her biggest clients? The “bible belt” in USA for up-market bibles-strange old world.
    She once treated a group of us to a sophisticated Japanese banquet in a posh Bath restaurant, and was mortified when one of our group drank the finger bowl thinking it was a type of Japanese tea! Oh, happy days.)

  3. After.

    Then I was in the animal health industry, marketing treatments to most of the UKs livestock farmers and veterinary surgeons-but no owls. (Actually, I probably did, but never had such detailed reports back from the veterinary surgeons.)

    See, there’s no flies on me-even used to market fly repellant ears tags for cattle. Gave me some experience of the big beasts being bothered by noisy tiny entities. I knew it would come in useful one day.

  4. No hrb. Need to Giggle livestock a little I think-it’s winter. Flies for warmer times.

    Anyway, I have done my best to offer a little light relief to mitigate against the disaster of the Survey results, and must now catch up on other matters.

    Try not to fall into despair over the weekend. Console yourselves that, I will be back!

    • actually martin the first and second of february are imbolc a festival which marks the coming of spring, so best get your ear tag in

    • You two (Martin, hrb) might consider starting your own mutual fan club on Facebook? There’s a lot of fruitless scrolling to get through for the rest of us here.

      Please note the Post heading (topic/context etc)

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