Government proposals to bypass local decision-making for shale gas developments are to be challenged on Wednesday (12 September 2018) with a women’s rally outside the House of Commons and a parliamentary debate.
The Conservative MP, Lee Rowley, who opposed Ineos exploration proposals in his North East Derbyshire constituency, opens a Westminster Hall debate on planning permission for shale gas sites.
It comes at a key time as the government consults on changes to the planning system for shale gas.
Ministers have proposed to classify non-fracking shale gas exploration as permitted development. This would mean shale gas companies could establish a well pad and drill exploration wells without the need to submit a planning application to the local minerals planning authority.
The government is also proposing to designate shale gas production schemes as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. This would take decision-making away from local mineral planning authorities and give it to the Secretary of State on the recommendation of a government-appointed planning inspector.
Mr Rowley tweeted:
“I’ve secured a debate in Westminster Hall at 11am to discuss current proposals to loosen the planning rules around fracking. Those communities who know fracking the best like it the least – and I’ll be using the debate to press for a rethink.”
Friends of the Earth is encouraging MPs to attend Mr Rowley’s debate.
In a campaign launched this weekend, Friends of the Earth said:
“This is a huge opportunity.
“If enough MPs attend and voice their opposition to fracking, the government will have to listen.”
Announcing the proposals in May, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark said:
“We believe that it is right to utilise our domestic gas resources to the maximum extent and exploring further the potential for onshore gas production from shale rock formations in the UK, where it is economically efficient, and where environment impacts are robustly regulated.”
The debate coincides with a Parliament Square rally of more than 100 women dressed as Suffragettes.
The women are mainly from Lancashire, where the government overruled the county council to grant planning permission for what is expected to be the first UK high volume hydraulic frack since 2011. Final consent to frack the first well at the site at Preston New Road was granted by ministers in July 2018.
The women at the rally will ask MPs not to support the proposed changes to planning rules. They will deliver their message on a giant postcard to the Department for Business, Energy and Industry.
The rally, in the 100th year since some women secured the right to vote in parliamentary elections, will hear speeches from among others: the Green Party Peer, Baroness Jenny Jones; Green Party MP and former leader, Caroline Lucas; and former Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett.
Ms Lucas said:
“In July the Government quietly approved fracking in Lancashire – abandoning its commitment to tackle climate change by prolonging our dependence on fossil fuels, and defying democratic decisions made at the local level to block this dangerous drilling.
“Just 18% of people in the UK support fracking, while 85% back clean renewable energy. With MPs and women from across the country debating fracking next week in Parliament, ministers must listen to the public’s serious concerns and end their dash for gas.”
Dot Kelk, an environmental campaigner who will travel from Lancashire to the rally, said:
“Local democracy must be respected. On a local level, communities must be able to make planning decisions that are not interfered with on a national level. Otherwise, what is the point in having local governance?
“We say: let communities decide. Dirty energy infrastructure projects that have health, environment and climate impacts for years to come, should not be forced upon communities that have already clearly said no.
“The Suffragettes fought hard to give women a voice, but even today, we find we still can’t be heard by politicians.”
The Oscar-winning actor and dame, Emma Thompson, said:
“Everyone should know the story of Lancashire, where local democracy was flushed away by the government along with the decision of the local people to resist fracking in the area.
“Fracking is a ludicrous way of creating energy and flies in the face of everything this government pledged to support in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
“Support the Lancashire Women and force this government to listen.”
The 100+ Women rally is expected to begin at about 10.30am in Parliament Square, London SW1P 3BD. Speeches are expected to start at 12.30pm, after Prime Minister’s Questions.
The debate is at 11am in Westminster Hall, Houses of Parliament, London SW1A 1AA. It is Mr Rowley second Westminster Hall debate on shale gas. In November 2017, he told MPs shale gas exploration would result in “a wholesale industrialisation of the Derbyshire countryside.”