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Mixed views over new government fracking proposals

Words: Laura Edgar
Fracking / iStock_000022131270

A government announcement that will see shale gas applications fast-tracked through a new dedicated planning process has received a mixed response.

The measures announced by communites secretary Greg Clark and energy secretary Amber Rudd include identifying councils that repeatedly fail to determine oil and gas applications within the 16-week statutory period. Clark could then decide subsequent applications, with appeals recovered on a case-by-case basis.

It will be ensured that, the government said, local communities will “remain fully involved in planning decisions with any shale applications – whether decided by councils or government”.

Cuadrilla, an independent UK energy company, has welcomed the proposals and the government's “continued commitment to get exploration for shale gas underway in the UK”.

In a statement Cuadrilla said local authorities are expected to assess and determine planning applications of all types within a certain timeframe so the announcement is “about getting the existing planning system to work as it is intended".

Cuadrilla added there is “no good reason” why an application for shale gas exploration should take longer to determine than for a major housing development.

On the other hand, Nick Clack, senior energy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said the changes could see the government taking away more decisions from local people, fuelling “division and disempowerment”.

“Enabling broad local conversations about what appropriate local energy projects might be, taking full account of local environmental impacts, would be the most positive way forward,” he said.

Friends of the Earth planning adviser Naomi Luhde-Thompson agreed. “Bulldozing fracking applications through the planning system, against the wishes of local people and councils, will simply fan the flames of mistrust and opposition,” she explained.

Clack expressed concern that the government has chosen a different way for fracking than for onshore wind, “where recent welcome changes have sought to put local communities at the heart of decisions”.

He questioned why is “greater localism appropriate for some new energy projects, but not for others?”

“It sounds disingenuous for the government to claim that local communities will remain fully involved in shale gas and oil planning decisions if these decisions are ultimately taken by ministers,” Clack said.

Luhde-Thompson suggested ministers should instead “champion real solutions to the energy challenges we face,” such as boosting the UK’s renewable power potential.

Cuadrilla though said it is “undoubtedly in the national and local interest” to see if the need for natural gas in the UK can be satisfied in the UK. “If it can, it will mean we are less reliant on imported gas and coal and better positioned to create jobs and wealth here in the UK,” Cuadrilla added.