The leader of Conservative-controlled Derbyshire County Council has said government plans designed to fast-track shale gas will cut local authorities out of decisions with the biggest impact on communities.
Councillor Barry Lewis said he opposed the proposal to make non-fracking schemes permitted development, avoiding the need for planning applications. He said he was also against making a government minister responsible for deciding shale gas production schemes.
Cllr Lewis said in a statement this afternoon:
“Local councils are best placed to make decisions about development in their local area. But if these changes to the planning system go ahead it will mean important decisions affecting our communities about fracking are taken by central Government.
“And if the planning system is short-cut by no longer requiring proposals to investigate for shale gas to be given planning permission, it will be a sad blow to public engagement through local decision making.”
Derbyshire is waiting the imminent outcome of a public inquiry on Ineos plans for shale gas exploration in the village of Marsh Lane.
County councillors voted by 9-1 in February 2018 to oppose the scheme to drill a 2.4km exploration well 400m away from homes.
The council argued at the inquiry in Chesterfield in June 2018 that heavy vehicles visiting the site would have an unacceptable impact on rural roads. It also said local people would be disturbed by night-time noise and the proposal would affect the openness of the green belt.
Ineos said the scheme should be approved because the government supported the development of shale gas.
Cllr Lewis said:
“These are sensitive applications. They are classed as ‘temporary’ but can include long periods of testing and drilling with tall rigs and associated buildings.
“Our planning process is a democratic process. These changes could see local councils completely cut-out of the decision-making process at every stage for shale gas proposals with the greatest effects on the local communities and countryside.”
Under the current system, shale gas companies have to apply for planning permission from the council at each stage of the development, from exploration, through appraisal to production.
The government is currently consulting on its proposals. The deadline for comments is 25 October 2018.
Derbyshire County Council said today it was preparing a formal response. A report will be considered by the council’s cabinet on 11 October 2018.
National opposition to government proposals
Cllr Lewis’s comments support the results of a recent poll of Conservative council members.
The research, commissioned by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and Friends of the Earth (FoE), found that 80% of Conservative councillors in areas where fracking companies have a licence to explore for shale gas believe planning applications should be required before drilling.
It also found that 65% of Conservative councillors believe local authorities should grant final planning consent for shale production projects.
The Mayor of Malton, Paul Andrews, announced this week he was launching a legal challenge to the Written Ministerial Statement which announced the change of policy on planning for shale gas