New consultation proposes stripping fracking decisions from local councils
Fracking has a serious public relations problem. The latest government opinion poll found that just 16% support fracking, with 32% opposed. And the more heavily industry pushes, the more local communities dig their feet in. Recently, Conservative-controlled Derbyshire county council planning committee voted nine to one not to support a fracking application by Ineos - the fourth example in less than fortnight of English councils opposing onshore gas plans.
But will councils in the future have the chance to vote on fracking applications or will the decision be taken out of their hands?
The Communities and Local Government Select Committee has opened a formal inquiry: a consultation on whether guidance for local authorities taking planning decisions on fracking should be updated. And as part of this they have included the question of whether "applications for fracking should be dealt with as national infrastructure under the 2008 Planning Act".
This would allow shale gas companies to apply directly to the Planning Inspectorate, bypassing the local council. Currently the local 'mineral planning authority' with the authority to decide applications is your county council, unitary authority or metropolitan council (although their decision can be overridden by the Secretary of State as happened in Lancashire). National Parks are also mineral planning authorities.
If fracking is classed as 'nationally significant infrastructure', applications would instead be examined by an inspector and the decision made by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
While individuals can submit evidence to the Select Committee, Louise Somerville from Frack Free Somerset argues that the most useful thing campaigners can do is raise the issue with their local councils. "Let them know that their say over fracking applications is about to be taken away. And write to your local paper - all councillors read it!"
More information about the inquiry from 'Drill or Drop'.
Inquiry deadline 14 March