Government proposals to relax the planning rules for shale gas sites are due to be discussed for the first time in the chamber of the House of Commons.
It follows calls for a debate by a cross-party group of MPs.
In May last year, the government announced plans to classify non-fracking shale gas sites as permitted development. This would allow operators to avoid the need for a full planning application and bypass the normal local authority decision-making process.
Ministers also proposed to designate major shale gas production sites at Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP). This would mean decisions would be made the local government secretary, rather than local councillors.
A petition against the proposals last year received more than 300,000 signatures. More than 600 councillors signed a letter opposing the measures. Conservative MPs had warned that the government may not have sufficient parliamentary support if there was a vote. The government has not yet published the conclusions of public consultations.
The debate, scheduled for tomorrow (28 March 2019), was proposed by the Liberal Democrat Wera Hobhouse, the Conservative Ben Bradley and Labour’s Sir Clive Betts.
Applying for the debate, they said:
“The proposed changes contained within the initial two consultations disregard the wishes of local communities, remove decision making powers from local councils and strip the requirement for fracking companies to apply for planning permission for shale gas exploration.”
This will be the first time in three years that fracking has been debated in the main chamber of the House of Commons and a first for the government proposals.
If the government goes ahead with the permitted development and NSIP schemes, they are likely to become law without primary legislation. This means they are unlikely to be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny.
Ms Hobhouse said:
“The government is still considering these consultations, and therefore this debate is not only important but vital.
“This government’s laissez-faire attitude towards the rights of local people is worrying, and their similar disregard for the UK’s carbon emissions is downright terrifying.
“[Investing in fracking] would be a huge step backwards in our fight against climate change; we owe it to our children, and their children, to do the right thing and invest fully in renewable energies. This country must not rely on fossil fuels any longer, and the transition away from them needs to be accelerated now.”