The Conservative MP whose constituency has the largest number of shale gas licences told a packed hall of constituents he opposed government proposals that could relax the rules for exploration sites.
Kevin Hollinrake, who represents the area where Third Energy wants to frack, said there was “a lack of clarity” about the proposals.
But he said he would oppose the government if entire well sites were treated as permitted development – avoiding the need for planning permission.
“Building a well pad is a hugely significant industrial activity. If this would mean a producer could build a well wherever they wanted we have absolutely got to oppose that. It is absolutely unacceptable.”
Mr Hollinrake, a parliamentary private secretary to the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, was one of five speakers at a meeting in Malton. It was part of Let Communities Decide, a week of actions raising awareness of a consultation on the government proposals (see DrillOrDrop report).
The MP said any opposition from him would “carry a lot more weight” with the government because he had supported ministers on shale gas in the past. But he said:
“If they push ahead with these plans I will oppose them.”
Opponents of the government proposals have said the rule change would treat shale gas sites like minor building projects, such as small extensions or garden sheds.
Alan Linn, chief operating officer for Third Energy, said a site like the one his company operated at Kirby Misperton needed a lot of other approvals, even if it were classed as permitted development under the proposals.
Frank Colenso, a local campaigner and member of the panel, said fracking would be a foregone conclusion under the proposed changes, which would also give decisions on shale gas production schemes to central government.
“The Secretary of State is hardly going to turn it down for fracking after companies have spent millions on a well.”
Another member of the audience, Bishop Graham Cray, from Kirby Misperton, said the government’s proposals represented a danger of what he described as “unaccountable power”. He said:
“Government is taking a patronising attitude to local communities.
“There needs to be, not just proper local democracy, but a proper debate that takes us seriously.”
Mr Hollinrake replied:
“The producers cannot be in charge. They have to be held in check by regulators and politicians”.
To laughs from the audience, Mr Hollinrake said:
“I do not think government is going to press ahead regardless. I think it will listen.”
The panel was joined for the question and answer session by the new shale gas commissioner, Natascha Engel. She told the audience:
“If there is an overwhelming case [against the planning proposals] government will have to listen.”
“It doesn’t”, people shouted back.
Ms Engel, who described herself as a government appointment, independent but not impartial, said:
“We do not get this level of opinion in Derbyshire. Normally people wait for a response.”
One member of the audience answered:
“That’s because they’re four years behind us.”
“Fracking is a dead duck”
Andy Tickle, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England which opposes the government proposals, said:
“We want to believe that this is a serious consultation where ministers will carefully consider our responses
“We hope too the government will now recognise that to proceed with them would be a ruthless subversion of local democracy and do the right thing – drop them.”
Referring to this week’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he said fracking was “a dead duck”.
“We must speed up the transition to renewable energy. We have absolutely no time to mess around introducing a new carbon emitting fossil fuel industry.”
Nicholas Howard, of Castle Howard, a member of the panel, said of the IPCC conclusions that major economic and social changes were needed to tackle climate change:
“I was terrified when I read this report.”
But he said:
“There is good work going on. The next thing we have to do is something about it.”
Kenelm Storey, the president of the local Conservative association, who chaired the meeting, said:
“We want a joined up energy policy, concentrating on renewables over fossil fuels, that is implemented through the local planning system.”
There was anger in the overwhelmingly anti-fracking audience at comments by the energy minister, Claire Perry that shale gas opponents were “a travelling circus”.
Asked to respond to the minister’s remark, Mr Hollinrake said:
“The vast majority of people are decent, honourable people. I do not see the travelling circus. This is not my experience. Some people do move around and protest about shale gas but the vast majority are decent local people.”
Asked whether he was proud to be an MP for a country that sent peaceful protesters to jail, Mr Hollinrake said:
“Peaceful protesting does not sound as if people should have been arrested but people who are going about their commercial business must be able to do that without unlawful disruption.”
Reporting from this meeting was made possible by individual donations from DrillOrDrop readers