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. Simply cannot happen quickly enough. This is a critical issue of national importance, for energy security, balance of payments, taxation revenue and economic growth. Far too important decisions to be taken by nimby pressurised councils. Local councils have quite enough to deal with. Leave the national interest to the government, who are there to serve the national interest.

    • Well well, it seems Third Energy have finally cooked the books enough to submit their accounts?

      Five months late of course and no doubt so full of frack holes you could drive several heavily laden LHG’s through them without touching the sides?

      They are being “processed”? I doubt if the examining accountants can control their hilarity enough to treat them seriously? They will dine out on those for months to come!

      Well, it’s the 2nd of February on this frack free day, and to give you a little treat, here is Ian R Cranes video for today, and very appropriate and relevant it is too!

      ( https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=em-lbcastemail&v=KkwIElYFysg )

      As always, Enjoy Enjoy Enjoy!

    • Well – That’s fine if you put energy security, balance of payments, taxation revenue and economic growth ahead of Health, Geological Seismic Stability, Air and Groundwater Purity etc. etc. etc. When it comes to Jobs, Economic Growth, Energy Security, Taxation Revenue, the Clean Green Revolution will soon provide a solution in the form of Renewables.

    • Rubbish. I’m pretty sure Third Energy for example, haven’t paid any tax in the last few years. Aren’t they registered in the Cayman Isles? The government and experts have already said it won’t make much difference to energy security or to fuel bills. We export about a third of our gas as it is. There has to be a hidden agenda behind all surely because it just doesn’t make sense. And whatever happened to ‘localism’? In any case who in their right mind would want the North of England turning into a gigantic gas field? just so some shareholders might make a profit and a company can make yet more plastic. How does living in a gasfield make our lives better and our location more desirable? Our future lies in our unique unspoilt countryside and farmland. Our reputation for fine foods, livestock, tourism, market towns, sports etc…. fossil fuels should stay in the ground. We ought to have a national infrastructure agenda to develop renewable technologies and create thousands of renewable technology apprenticeships for our young people. We are an island with 2 tides a day every day! If we want UK energy security let’s start by using that power plus offshore wind and solar as a condition of planning consent when huge distribution warehouses are built and on our own homes in the U.K.

      • Well said Kate. There’s so much mis-information in and around the Fracking Debate. One of the worst being presentations made to Locals in the proposed Fracking Areas, by Fracking Companies, and they appear to be supported by the Environment Agency. After all the Environment Agency are a government body. They are probably under some kind of mandate to smooth the way for Fracking. Or am I just Paranoid? The other big illusion is the play down of the number of Fracking Wells that will be required across the landscape to fully exploit the available Shale Gas under a given area. It will/would be a large number of wells in all directions, totally transforming the landscape, and each one multiplies the probability of catastrophic failure exponentially.

  2. Yes, Fred. Some seem to have totally ignored the survey (understandable) that shows that under one third are currently against fracking-even before any financial benefits are calculated.

    Being in denial and claiming how the public are against it, is lala land. But, with anti support dropping there will be more and more wild claims to try and attract new recruits, who were obviously not that interested in past, more moderated, claims. These things follow a predictable pattern, and the recent tone of some of the (remaining) anti’s posts shows it quite clearly.

    I will be interested in how the Scottish Government deal with the findings of the survey when Ineos get to grips with them. I would have thought any half decent legal expert could easily have fun in respect of the divergence between the Scottish “public consultation” and this latest survey.

  3. Let’s get real here. The only thing about Shale Gas that is “a critical issue of national importance” Fred is that it is banned so that the country can stop dallying with another polluting, risk-laden fossil fuel industry, just as it has been banned for so many other states, regions, cities and counties around the world, in increasing numbers. They are the realists, showing regard for the legacy issues facing the next generation and for their country’s overall carbon footprint.

    To take my simple one thousand well criteria , a number below which the expectation that shale gas is going to be any kind of game changer for the UK economy is simply nonsense, why don’t you look at the costs, the impacts, the haulage, the risks to the environment and the waste disposal issues, the need for interconnection (pipelines) between these wells and their condenser/compressor stations and the grid, and at the same time bear in mind that there is roughly ten times the population density here- to that in the states where they (just about) get away with it, albeit with thousands of complaints and divided communities left in it’s wake.

    Envisaging a thousand well scenario is simply being realistic. But it wouldn’t stop there. Each frack job yields up around 60% of it’s recoverable gas in the first year. You have to keep drilling, fracking. waste-disposing and depleting fresh water ad-infinitum once you set up dependency on it. It’s a model non-renewable resource.

    By withholding this kind of realistic picture of what going down this route would mean for the country, and the countryside, I believe the industry, along with those advocates here, are being deliberately deceitful and putting dubious trust in the hope that the public will go along with all the promises, lies and that yes, you might get an upturn in public acceptance in that devious way, but please be aware that that is what you are doing. You can fool some of the people some of the time etc.

  4. Well, PhilipP, you have been promoting (scaremongering) this “realistic picture” for some while now. What has gone wrong?

    Yes, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but the majority are not easily fooled-see latest survey results. You will find in the UK the majority do not like being told by a minority what they are allowed to do. Whilst a minority view is respected, when it is accompanied by extensive anti social activity to force that view then you start to see the controls upon that, such as injunctions, police controls etc. to protect the majority.

    Now, that’s democracy.

  5. I leave them to their own devices hrb, don’t want to disturb their amorous adventures with some sort of vigil. The wood pigeons have, but that is the huge acreage of oilseed rape giving them an almost continuous breeding cycle now.
    Interestingly, I have noticed in the last couple of years my large hollow fir tree is often shared by bats, grey squirrels, owls and hornets. I can only speculate (catching) that they keep to their own sections as it seems a strange mix otherwise. (Or maybe they see it as their DOD where different animals can socialise and live in harmony!)

  6. I suspect the local food supply is not sufficient to produce a brood that size (we have an explosion in the fox population as the area becomes more urbanised and the real farmers who controlled them sell up to the horsey folk.) Vets. are loving it as they have plenty of dogs now that require treatment for mange since the survival of the fittest has been curtailed. And since the Newbury by-pass was finished (remember the antis?) red kites have found their way down to us-yes, they really do expand their territories along motorways/ dual carriageways-all to do with the double delight of road kill and nice open trimmed embankments producing a good food supply.

    Anyway, have a good weekend. Back to the gardening for me whilst the rain holds off.

  7. Mange kills dogs, hrb. Foxes kill chickens, lambs and attack babies. They will also gobble up a poor baby owl if it falls to the ground.
    I suspect you haven’t farmed, I have. The vast majority of farmers are much better at looking after the wildlife and rural environment than anyone else as they are involved in it 24/7 rather than outsiders looking in. eg.A farmer who losses many of his lambs will not be able to afford to carry out wildlife development, may need to grub up hedges to provide more space for arable crops in compensation. There is usually a sound reason for such activity.

  8. Yep, they have hrb. In terms of lambs, usually to relieve suffering, with chickens the same (often if other chicken have cannibalised their sisters-one of the rarely publicised problems of free range production) or for the dinner table. I have absolutely no problem with that, still having my incisors and canines (there for a reason) but equally I have no problem with others wanting to be vegans. They can now have their teeth modified with a full set of molar implants, going the whole hog, and ruminate upon it until the cows come home. But I do have a problem with vegans telling me about the evil of farming through a cloud of ignorance and trying to impose their choice upon myself. Or a vegetarian pontificating about their moral superiority when they are wearing a £200 pair of leather boots.

    Sorry to spoil your weekend, but I can smell lamb from the kitchen, so must go before the dog beats me to it.

    • Lambs in my opinion have the best deal of all in terms of quality of life. Out in the Green Fields with their mothers until they are separated and sorted for slaughter or more lamb production back in the Green Fields. Some males are kept fro stud. I wouldn’t mind that job !

      • Sadly Roy you may have to endure foot rot and leg injury due to inability to carry your own body weight due to ‘selective’ breeding; oh and the risk of dying in agony from bloat or of drowning on outlying tidal marshland due to lack of proper management …….

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