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Following a Written Ministerial Statement in May, the Government has commenced two consultations aimed at easing the planning path of fracking companies that wish to explore for and to produce shale gas (methane) to meet national energy needs.

  1. It is proposed that exploratory drilling for shale gas should be considered permitted development, and thus not be required to go through the normal planning process. Permitted development is part of the UK planning system which allows small, low-impact work to be carried out without having to apply to local council for planning permission. It is most widely used for small house extensions, moving a door or window or erecting a small garden shed (although building regulation clearance can still be required). There is no previous record of mineral applications that involve deep drilling being assisted in this way.
  2. It is proposed that all applications for major shale gas production are removed from local authority planning control and classified as ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects’ (as per ports or nuclear power stations etc). The Government’s Inspectorate will then consider such proposals and eventual decisions will be signed off by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

“This announcement signals an outright assault on local communities’ ability to exercise their democratic rights in influencing fracking applications – all to fast-track an industry bringing environmental risks that would massively outweigh any suggested ‘benefit’ to our energy security” – Daniel Carey-Dawes, CPRE.

“In their commitment to extract more gas than we can afford to burn, they are trying to remove planning control from everyone who understands their local area and make exploratory drilling as easy as building a garden wall or conservatory” – Rebecca Newson, Greenpeace

Both sets of proposals are highly controversial and reflect the desperation of Government to give unparalleled preferential treatment to a particular and fairly embryonic industry. Local planning authorities are already urged in the National Planning Policy Framework to give “great weight to the benefits of mineral extraction”, (with strengthened text now pending in respect of unconventional hydrocarbons), but this is at odds with the Government policy to minimise fossil free use and tackle climate change, particularly if, as might seem logical, the latter merits the greater weight.

Friends of the Earth and Frack Free United have come together to launch a major campaign to co-ordinate already loud opposition to this threat to local democracy. More detail is available via the leaflet reproduced below which is available for campaign groups via www.frackfreeunited.co.uk. The main banner for the campaign is “Let Communities Decide’ at https://gofossilfree.org/uk/let-communities-decide/

TAKE ACTION

Sample email or letter

Dear MP/Councillor,

I am/We are extremely concerned that the Government is now consulting on proposals to allow drilling for shale gas to be treated as “permitted development”, removing the need for planning approval. It also wishes to remove fracking production from local planning control and classify it as a ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project’ (NSIP) to be decided under a central Government regime that considers major road, airport and power station schemes.

As Nottinghamshire Councillors will be aware, deep drilling in advance of hydraulic fracturing of shale rock (or fracking) can be extremely invasive, involving disturbance to local communities and wildlife habitats as well as posing a threat to critical groundwater supplies and raising local pollution levels. The County Council Committee report that considered the exploratory drill proposal at Misson in Bassetlaw in 2016 was some 350 pages long and contained 37 conditions. A vast amount of this planning control would be lost if permitted development rights were granted for drilling and production applications were ceded to the NSIP regime.

These proposals to favour the fracking industry have been firmly ruled out by the parliamentary Communities & Local Govt Select Committee at the conclusion of its Planning Guidance on Fracking Inquiry in July 2018. *(See below for report recommendation on permitted development). There is also legitimate concern that drilling can trigger seismic activity in former mining areas (Ref: Prof Styles Report) so that tighter rather than looser regulation should probably apply in Nottinghamshire.

I /We believe that local democracy will be undermined if the planning system is distorted in the ways suggested. It is hard to fathom why the Government is intent to give preferential treatment to an industry that has been shown to be hard to regulate in USA and Australia, has considerable debt issues and has been banned in France, Ireland, New York State and elsewhere.

[Add your own comments here]

I/We would like to know your views on these proposals and to encourage you to raise concerns with the responsible Minister -who seems keen to take them forward under secondary legislation. Hopefully you can respond critically to the consultations and urge parliamentary/councillor colleagues to do likewise.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours Sincerely,
[Your Name]
[Your Address]

* “Shale gas development of any type should not be classed as a permitted development. Given the contentious nature of fracking, local communities should be able to have a say in whether this type of development takes place, particularly as concerns about the construction, locations and cumulative impact of drill pads are yet to be assuaged by the Government”

Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s Report on “Planning Guidance on Fracking Inquiry’ (2018)

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