The Conservative MP whose constituency includes Cuadrilla’s fracking site has urged the government to scrap its proposals designed to speed up shale gas decisions.
Mark Menzies, MP for Fylde, said it was “absolutely crackers” to make non-fracking shale gas sites permitted development, avoiding the need for a planning application.
He told a parliamentary debate this evening:
“Moving to permitted development is nothing short of irresponsible and down right bonkers.”
If the government’s proposal went ahead, he said:
“Developers can rock up, develop sites that are clearly unsuitable and people will feel done to.”
Even if sites were suitable, there would not be the level of scrutiny that would be applied under the standard planning system, he said.
Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site, near Blackpool, was a major development, not the small or straight forward scheme for which permitted development was intended, Mr Menzies said:
“We have got thousands of tonnes of hardcore, piled on top of double layered polyurethane membranes, big trenches dug around what is up to a 2ha site, a 30 m drilling rig, 2m perimeter fence 4.8m high bunding and fencing, several cabins, 3m in height acoustic screening 5m in height, lighting rig of 9min height. 2.9m high powered generator, 2 water tanks of 3m height, 10m high emergency vent an access road off a busy main road and I could go on.
“Who on earth thinks that is equivalent to building a little extension of the side of your bungalow. It isn’t”.
Conservatives lined up to follow Mr Menzies’ criticism of the government’s ideas, which also include proposals to designate shale gas production as nationally significant infrastructure, where decisions are made by a minister.
Kevin Hollinrake, whose Thirsk and Malton constituency includes Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton, said the proposals would “ride a coach and horses” through measures agreed by North Yorkshire County Council to restrict shale gas developments.
Lee Rowley, the Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire which includes the Ineos Marsh Lane site, urged the government to withdraw its plans immediately.
“This proposal on permitted development and NSIP is ludicrous and needs to be stopped.”
He said he was not clear what the government was trying to achieve or what the problem was.
Sir Greg Knight, East Yorkshire, said local communities should have more say in fracking matters and not see their voices taken away.
Simon Hoare, North Dorset, described himself as a shale gas sceptic, if not an opponent:
“Trying to change the planning regime now, with the heritage that we already have on this issue, does not, in my book pass what I would describe as “the sniff test” It does not quite have legitimacy. It seems a sleight of hand and should be resisted.
Zac Goldsmith, Richmond Park, described it as “inexplicably inconsistent” and “policy driven by ideology” to make shale gas schemes permitted development while it was almost impossible to erect new onshore wind turbines.
Damien Moore, Southport, said concerns about fracking were being expressed by “very ordinary general people”.
“They are not organised protesters. They are people who live in these communities and they are fearful that their rural communities will become industrial.”
Alex Chalk, Cheltenham, another Conservative fracking sceptic, said:
“The expansion of permitted development to circumvent the normal planning process is disproportionate and potentially counterproductive”.
Labour MPs also joined the criticism of the government’s proposal.
Sir Kevin Barron, who represents Rother Valley, where Ineos wants to drill at Harthill and Woodsetts, said the government was “all over the place” on consultations on fracking. Ministers launched a new consultation this afternoon on requiring shale gas companies to consult people before submitting a planning application.
Sir Kevin said:
“This is the most inconsistent, confusing thing that I have seen in all my 35 years in Parliament. The Government clearly do not know what is going on with it.”
Gordon Marsden, Blackpool South, whose constituency neighbours Preston New Road, said it was “regrettable” that no minister had “taken the trouble to visit Lancashire” and see what was happening at the site.
Justin Madders represents Ellesmere Port and Neston where IGas is appealing against a refusal of testing plans by the local council. He said local people should have opportunity to voice concerns in an “open, legitimate and transparent process.
“That should mean a genuine democratic procedure not a stitch up that benefits private interests.”
Jared O’Mara, Sheffield Hallam, said he had more correspondence from constituents about fracking than Brexit and tree felling. Rachel Maskell, York Central, said people had said overwhelmingly that fracking would “be a disaster for their local community”
Karen Lee, Lincoln, described the proposals as “a shameful clampdown on local democracy and disregard the autonomy of residents and communities. Bill Esterson, Sefton Central, said his constituents felt they should have a voice and be involved in decision-making.
Clive Betts, chair of the housing, committee and local government committee, which opposed the proposals asked:
“Isn’t there something fundamentally contradictory about an approach which says that one stage fracking is so insignificant that permitted development should be allowed but at the next stage it is so important that that it should be treated as a nationally significant infrastructure project. Surely the two aren’t compatible in the same sentence.
Jo Platt, Leigh in Lancashire, said fracking had caused “real anxiety” in her region, which had been left “feeling singled out by the Government’s fracking regime”. She said:
“It is totally unacceptable to impose such a chaotic process on communities without giving them a say”.
The former Lb Dem leader, Tim Farron, referred to the series of earth tremors linked to the current fracking in Lancashire:
“Permitted development was created for conservatories, small extensions and outhouses, none of which to the best of my knowledge have created an earth tremor and yet we see the fracking rig potentially given rights under permitted development which is a cynical disgrace.
Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, the shadow local government minister, said the government was increasingly isolated on the issue. She said:
“The permitted development system is not appropriate for dealing with the complexity of fracking and neither is the NSIP process because both of those aspects of the planning system totally ignore the voice of local people.”
John McNally, the SNP spokesperson, referred to earthquakes caused by gas extraction in the Netherlands. Since July 2017, he said, there had been 80,000 damage claims against the government totalling E1.2 billon.
The DUP’s Sammy Wilson, East Antrim, was the only backbencher to support shale gas in the debate.
“on behalf of the millions of consumers across the United Kingdom who rely on gas, I trust that the Government’s sensible proposals will be adopted.”
The local government minister, Kit Malthouse, replying to the debate said responses in a consultation on the proposed changes were being considered and no decisions had been made. He stressed the government was committed to ensuring that local people remained fully involved in planning decisions, while making those decisions faster and fairer.
“These are long-standing principles which I am adamant we will stick to”.
The minister said there could be conditions on, for example, rig height, noise and operation controls. Developments which used hydraulic fracturing would not be included.
If the government decided to take the proposals forward, there would be further consultation on the details, he said.