Politics

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).

Reaction

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. Marvellous. So fracking should be taken out of local control by MPs, many of whom have vested interests in it. And local people should decide about local windmills (no vested interests by MPs that I’m aware of, happy to be corrected on that!).

    • Would someone pls educate me a bit on this matter? What bearing will the Committee’s recommendation have on the policy decision? Thank you

    • With 5 Million Gallons of Freshwater Used to Frack Just One Well. That’s your drinking water. It is returned to the local environment totally polluted poisonous and harmful to health and the ecology. How can any council sanction such a diabolical practice. That’s why the Tories, many of whom have vested interests in all kinds of Fossil Fuel extraction methods, want to take the decision making process away from those most affected by the evil pernicious process.

    • Lovely title that GBK NIMBY Councillors, bit of an oxymoron;
      Local Councillors = protect and serve local communities against inappropriate development; simples

  2. A couple of large costs against councils should accelerate the whole process, which of course they have done their best to avoid (not).

    Some might say there is a bit of engineering an outcome at play.

    • That is very revealing martin, do you really think that the ohandgee operators attempting to ride roughshod over central government will be as easy, or as difficult as attempting to ride roughshod over local communities and councils?

      Oh dear oh dear, no. It will be tears before bed time, temper tantrums won’t help you, insults and nastiness won’t help you, screaming for help when the jaws close won’t help you.

      The anti anti’s have failed to take care of that one vital thing that all business must learn.

      Don’t piss people off on the way up. Because you will inevitably meet them on the way down.
      Does that indicate the degree of care and concern the greedy abusive frackers will get on their inevitable and rapid descent into obscurity?

      None at all.

      The present ohandgee attitude is either naive to the point of stupidity. Or so suicidally overconfident and egotistical that any degree of rationality has departed the, now desperate, onshore ohandgee operators’, long since, as we all know it has from these frankly childish anti anti posts.

      They will get eaten alive by the deep deep government legal resources and cash (our cash) and with great relish and enjoyment they seem to willingly walking into those jaws that have made quick work of whole nations..
      So, yes take it directly to the waiting monsters lair and leap willingly into their waiting carefully sharpened jaw’s.
      Bigger minnows have tried that than the miserable overbearing tin pot little wannabe dictator corporate operators.
      And then we will all chuckle cruelly and carry on creating true direct local democracy where it matters, with real people in real communities who give a damn, people who actually live here and want a future for our childen.

      Off you go then. Bye bye!

  3. What happened, Patrick? Simples. Localism has been found to be flawed for this type of decision, with local representatives not researching the subject fully, not sticking to deadlines and being intimidated by those who shout the loudest. In some cases, they could not even explain why they had made a particular decision and needed to be bailed out by the professionals!
    Ideally, we will end up with a system that removes those problems, but still includes local input. It will not mean UDI for regions, that would just fill the pockets of the lawyers.
    The companies are being asked to show financial security, and operate to defined standards, to work within purchased licences. Fair enough, but equally fair that there is a level playing field and the companies know that there is security of action and adherence to standards from the other side.

    • I assume your tongue was firmly in your cheek there Martin…. hypocrisy as humour. You may be able to market your talent (as a stand up comedian?).

  4. I wonder why this subject is coming up now given that the Secretary of State is already overriding local planning decisions. The current govt has inherited the Fracking agenda from the former Cameron led Tories where they explicitly said, via recorded front-bench statements (by both Cameron and Osborne) that planning decisions would be local and that “we are not a dictatorship”.

    Maybe the current gov has just realised they have no mandate for over-ruling. Hence this, now coming up.

  5. Fracking is not in the national interest. Insert that sentence into National Planning Policy, and the frackers are out the door faster than the speed of light. Then we can all build a more sustainable economy. Come on Labour and Conservative members. Time to catch up with the wishes of your electorate and kill off fracking for good. Continue the trend that started with unconventional gas disappearing from plans for our energy security/energy policy.

  6. As the proposed ‘planning applications for fracking as national infrastructure’ was just that – a proposal, not agreed by parliament, and not in the Queens speech, the Tories could be on thin ice here. Could the shyster lobbyists and corrupted politicians be led off to the Tower? It may be just a short step from there to reinstate Royal prerogatives and the monarch could once again be heard to say ‘off with their heads!’. Just a thought 🙂

  7. Frackers are assuming they will get the nsip status but this is a weak government and Labour MPs are in control so I doubt that they will get their wishes.

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