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MPs: Mineral planning authorities best placed to decide fracking applications

Words: Laura Edgar
Exploratory drilling / iStock

A group of MPs have cautioned against government proposals to bring fracking applications under the remit of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime, instead concluding that mineral planning authorities are best placed to decide such applications.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s (HCLG) report follows the announcement in May that the government would consult on “the criteria required to trigger the inclusion of shale production projects into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime”.

The government said it would also consider whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration development should be treated as permitted development and when this might be appropriate.

For the committee, deciding fracking planning applications at a national level “contradicts” the principles of localism and “would likely exacerbate existing mistrust between communities and the fracking industry”. Furthermore, it doesn’t agree that permitted development should be applied to fracking applications.

Clive Betts MP, 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."

The report makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • Mineral planning authorities should be free to adapt their local plans “as they see fit as long as they do not arbitrarily restrict fracking applications”.
  • Proposed fracking changes in the revised NPPF “lack detail and create ambiguity” about the government’s position on fracking. Attention should be paid to how fracking sits with the UK’s commitments to climate change in order to make clear to mineral planning authorities how they can balance competing objectives, and respond to the public’s concerns.
  • The government should clarify the process by which fracking planning guidance documents are updated.

Responding to the report, a Local Government Association spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the committee has listened to councils and backs our call for any decision to host fracking operations to be a local one. Fracking operations should not be allowed to bypass the locally democratic planning system through permitted development or national planning inspectors.

“This needs to be up to local communities to decide on.

“People living near fracking sites – who are most affected by them – have a right to be heard. Local planning procedure exists for a reason, to ensure a thorough and detailed consultation with those communities.”

The committee’s full report can be found on the UK Parliament website.

Image credit | iStock