A survey out today has found that 80% of Conservative councillors in areas where fracking companies have a licence to explore for shale gas believe that planning applications should be required before drilling.
The research, commissioned by the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Friends of the Earth, also found that 65% of Conservative councillors believe local authorities should grant final planning consent for shale production projects.
The findings suggest that most Conservative councillors disagree with their government’s proposals to treat non-fracking shale gas exploration as permitted development. This would mean that companies like Ineos, Cuadrilla and IGas would not need to apply for planning permission.
The government is also proposing to class major shale gas production schemes as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. This would bypass local authorities and give the decisions to a government minister or planning inspector.
Consultations on both proposals opened last month and run until 25 October 2018.
Earlier this week, Alex Dale, a Conservative Member of Derbyshire County Council, which refused permission to Ineos for shale gas exploration, criticised the government’s proposals. Writing on the Conservative Home website, he said:
“This is not localism; it’s not Conservatism, and it’s not doing the best by those who have elected us.”
The Local Government Association, which represents local councils, has also opposed the government’s proposals. It said last month:
“Fracking operations should not be allowed to bypass the locally democratic planning system through permitted development or national planning inspectors.”
Daniel Carey-Dawes, Senior Infrastructure Campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said today:
“It is clear that the government does not have the backing of its own local councillors for its proposals to fast-track fracking. These plans erode the principles of localism – they diminish local communities’ democratic powers and undermine the fundamentals of the local planning system – and councillors recognise this.
“The government lacks the political support to bypass local authorities’ decision-making processes for fracking projects in their area. Unless the significant environmental risks of fracking can be entirely mitigated, exploratory and production plans must be scrutinised to the highest degree – not be made easier. We urge the government to listen to the views of its councillors and drop these plans immediately.”
Rose Dickinson, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said:
“Permitted development was meant to help people carry out small-scale things like putting up a garden shed, not drilling for gas. And this poll shows that Conservative councillors overwhelmingly agree.
“By wresting away from people the modest power they had to have a meaningful say, communities and councillors are being side-lined by the government with these plans.
“More recently, getting fracking permission in Lancashire out in the dying minutes of parliament seems to show that the government are well aware of the level of opposition they are facing.
“It’s clear that affected communities’ wishes are being sacrificed so that fracking companies can more easily drill. Significantly, the fact also remains that fracking is fundamentally incompatible with avoiding climate chaos.”
But the government proposals have been welcomed by UKOOG, the onshore oil and gas industry body. Its chief executive, Ken Cronin, said the changes would speed-up decisions and reduce uncertainty.
“With five separate regulators ensuring we meet our environmental and operational obligations in everything from well design to traffic management, the government’s plans only seek to ensure that communities, the industry and the nation aren’t left in the dark.”
CPRE and Friends of the Earth said the polling was carried by Survation, from 23-26 July 2018. The survey was conducted by phone with a sample size of 507 Conservative councillors in England in areas with PEDL licenses.
Survation is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.