This week the House of Commons debated proposals to class shale gas exploration as permitted development, following on from the consultation held by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government last summer. During a House of Commons debate, MPs were almost entirely against the proposals with concerns about the impact it would have on localism and climate change key.
The proposals would fast track applications to undertake "non-hydraulically" fractured shale gas though the National Infrastructure Planning regime. This would take the power to grant planning approval away from local authorities and into the hands of BEIS, through the Planning Inspectorate.
Opening the debate the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for housing, communities and local government Wera Hobhouse said the proposals would "deprive" local communities a voice. She also pointed out it would be a "travesty" it would support the development of a fossil fuel, at a time when the country must be prioritising efforts to halt climate change.
The shadow minister for BEIS Bill Esterson, whose own local authority has twice voted overwhelmingly against fracking in West Lancashire, agreed and said the proposals seem to ignore the local the significant local views which have been voiced. As such it should not be just a national government issue.
The Conservative member for Thirsk and Malton Kevin Hollinrake defended the proposals pointing out instead the fracked gas would not lead to more carbon emissions, but simply reduce the UK’s reliance on imported gas. With 23 million homes using natural gas to heat their homes, he cautioned the approach of vilifying gas.
The Labour MP for Wartwick and Leamington Matt Western agreed with the necessity for gas, but he used the debate to point out how the planning and development homes to move away from gas should have happened many years ago. Around 15,000 - 18,000 homes planned for his constituency will all have gas boilers.
The Conservative MP for East Yorkshire Greg Knight reminded some of his colleagues and ministers that the government wishes to see localism and devolution increased. As such this proposal would undermine that intent. His tory colleague Mark Menzies agreed but also said the time taken to decide on Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood was unacceptable and the system needed to change, something the chairman of Ineos Sir Jim Ratcliffe has also called for. Nevertheless Menzies’ pointed out permitted development rights is not the way to go.
In a joint statement after the debate Friends of the Earth, the CPRE, Frack Free United, 350.org, 38Degrees and SumofUs said: "There have been 57 earthquakes in Lancashire since fracking started. Yet the government wants to rip up the planning rulebook and fast-track fracking without community consent.
"Today MPs from across the political spectrum voiced their outrage at these plans and condemned the fracking industry for attempting to weaken vital earthquake regulations.
"This industry is bad news for our climate, environment and local democracy, and proposals to fast-track fracking should be thrown in the dustbin where they belong."