MPs in the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee have warned against moving decision-making on fracking applications to a national level, saying it would be “hugely harmful” to local democracy.
The government has proposed bringing fracking applications under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime, which covers large-scale projects in energy, transport, water, waste water and wind – such as power stations, airports, reservoirs or pylon lines. These projects, which are considered to be of national significance, require development consent from the relevant Secretary of State rather than from local planning authorities.
The proposal to define fracking projects as NSIPs, intended to speed up and streamline the application process, has been greeted with dismay by campaigners who fear it will allow the industry to circumvent the opposition of local residents and give a green light to damaging projects that would otherwise be denied.
Commenting on the report, Clive Betts, Labour MP and Chair of the committee, said: “Taking decision-making powers away from local planning authorities would be a backward step. It would remove the important link between fracking applications and Local Plans and be hugely harmful to local democracy and the principles and spirit of localism. It is Mineral Planning Authorities that have the knowledge of their areas needed to judge the impacts of fracking, not ministers sitting in Whitehall.
“Any move to alter this process also seriously risks worsening the often strained relationship between local residents and the fracking industry. The government has failed to provide any justification as to why fracking is a special case and should be included in the regime in contrast to general mineral applications.”
Greens welcome committee's report
Lancashire is the location at the front line of the fight against fracking, the extraction of natural gas from shale rocks beneath the earth’s surface. Controversial energy firm Cuadrilla has its main fracking site at Preston New Road, near Blackpool, the development of which was initially blocked by Lancashire councillors but was granted permission in October 2016 by Sajid Javid MP (then-Communities Secretary).
Preston New Road has been home to continued protests since proposals were submitted by Cuadrilla in 2014. Gina Dowding, Green councillor for Lancashire County Council and vocal anti-fracking campaigner, was previously arrested in 2017 during a ‘lock on’ protest at the site. Commenting on today’s report from MPs, she said: “The fact that a cross-party select committee has rejected the government’s proposals is really good news for anybody who wants to fight, both against fracking, and for accountable decision making and protecting local government and local democracy.”
Dowding expressed hope that the government’s ongoing inquiry into fracking planning guidance would take the Committee’s report into account: “One worries that when they have a consultation, what they really mean is it’s an information exercise to tell people what they’re going to do. I hope that the consultation is genuinely open, listening not just to their select committee but to all those who respond.”
Daniel Carey-Dawes, Senior Infrastructure Campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), also commented on the news, saying: “This report is a major blow for the government’s plans to fast track fracking across England’s countryside… The proposals would result in a significant loss of local decision making and exacerbate existing mistrust between communities and the fracking industry.
“The government must now heed these warnings and abandon plans to fast track fracking. Failure to do so risks leading to the industrialisation of our countryside, all for the benefit of an industry that has no environmental, economic or social licence.”