#UnityinDiversity - "unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation"
#UnityinDiversity - "unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation"

Fracking & democracy 

 

You will recall that the North Yorkshire Minerals and Waste Joint Plan (MWJP) was reported on in the last issue of this newsletter.  The independent Planning Inspector (appointed by the Planning Inspectorate) broadly considered the Joint Authorities plan was sound (subject of course to the usual modifications) as of 13 April 2018.  The gas industry representatives said at the Examination in Public that they would have to consider Judicial Review if that was the case.

 

It is with disbelief that I have to report that the Government has changed the rules relating to fracking by publishing on 17 May 2018 a Written Ministerial Statement possibly in direct response to industry lobbying to the Government over the North Yorkshire MWJP.  

 

Also contained in the same Written Ministerial Statement is the fact that the Government is proposing that exploratory drilling for shale gas should be considered as ‘permitted development’. Permitted development is the part of the UK planning law that allows people to carry out improvements to their home or property such as a loft conversation or adding a small conservatory, without the need to apply to the local council for planning permission.

 

An online petition, organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England against the permitted development proposals had more than 150,000 signatures at the time of writing.

The consultations are open to the public as well as the industry and interested parties. They run for 14 weeks until 25 October 2018.

What does this mean?

 

  • The intention is that such exploration sites will be treated in the same way in planning terms (don’t laugh) as putting up a small conservatory
  • It means that oil and gas companies would not need to apply for planning permission from the local council to construct an exploratory well
  • Exploratory sites will look similar to the one in the photograph
  • and could involve building a 1.5 hectare  well pad, with associated access roads, fencing and so on
  • Construction of such sites will result in noisy day and night time drilling for up to eight months
  • and require over sixty HGV journeys per day over the construction period

 

It then follows that if the exploration stage were successful that it would be difficult to envisage a planning authority turning down an application for full production on such a site as all of the main construction work will have been completed. Neither members of the public nor the planning authority will have any right to assess if the proposal is suitable for the locality nor any other right of redress.  So, no local decision making.

 

What else is happening? The government is also proposing that fracking in England should be treated in the production phase as a ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project’ (NSIP) like HS2 or the UK motorway network

 

  • This would mean that planning applications for full scale, multi-well (up to 50 boreholes) fracking sites would be decided by a government-appointed planning inspector, not the local planning authority
  • As above, this will follow the construction of exploratory sites, which will then simply be used for production subject to a decision made in Whitehall (but certainly not locally under the broad proposals)
  • This effectively removes any control of fracking projects from democratically elected county councils and local communities, which may result in thousands of fracking wells being drilled all across the country and the industrialisation of the British countryside
  • Unlike other matters where projects are under the NSIP regime there is no proposal for a right of compensation if your property were to be adversely affected by such a development
  • There are many concerns about how a nascent, novel fracking industry could be classified as an NSIP.

 

Consultations were announced on 19 July 2018, during the summer recess of Parliament.  It is deeply concerning that such operations should be given dispensation from needing planning permission for the reasons already discussed above.

 

In summary, the latest proposals

 

  • remove the rights of any person or body to object at any stage
  • and propose no rights to compensation, which given that this is an unproven industry, is concerning
  • this is an undemocratic proposal which contradicts the Government’s own policy of creating an environment where local people make local decisions

 

I would urge all residents if you care about democracy let your elected representatives (at all levels) know that you are concerned – it is the thin end of a wedge.

 

Consultation on permitted development rights:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/permitted-development-for-shale-gas-exploration

 

Consultation on Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/inclusion-of-shale-gas-production-projects-in-the-nationally-significant-infrastructure-project-nsip-regime

 

The Government’s own Energy and Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker: Wave 25 states that 18% of the UK supports fracking compared to 85% who support renewables.

 

David Davis FFR

 

 

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All views expressed here are those of Frack Free United. Frack Free United