Leaked letter shows government plans to force fracking on communities
What colour do you want the gates to your local shale gas site? That could be the limit of local people's input to decisions about shale gas production, according to a letter leaked to Friends of the Earth.
The letter reveals that the government is planning to take decision-making away from local councils.
Leaked fracking letter
The letter was written by Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, Communities Secretary Greg Clark and Environment Secretary Liz Truss to George Osborne last July.
It sets out proposals for a government shale gas strategy.
The ministers say they want “a maturing shale gas production industry” within 10 years.
Among the proposals to make this happen is changing who would take decisions about planning permission for shale gas production.
Fracking and planning
The letter says:
We are minded to bring shale within the Nationally Significant Infrastucture Planning (NSIP) regime for commercial scale projects
NSIP is a fast-track planning regime, designed for big pieces of kit, with decisions taken eventually by the Secretary of State rather than by local councils.
The government would set out the need for shale gas in a National Policy Statement, which means it would be much more difficult to question the need for the development.
The only issues to be discussed when deciding on an application would be “the impacts of the development on the locality”.
Local councils would be involved, but Friends of the Earth is concerned that the role of local people would be little more than deciding on the colour of the gates to a site.
The government realises this is likely to be controversial:
We need to think carefully about whether to slow this approach until a number of exploration sites are underway in order to avoid delaying current and prospective exploration applications or undermining public support for exploration sites
The shock revelation comes just days before the start of an appeal by Cuadrilla against the refusal of planning permission for 2 shale gas exploration sites in Lancashire.
Despite the clear rejection of fracking by the people of Lancashire and their elected councillors, Government Minister Greg Clark has announced that he will decide whether or not fracking should go ahead in Lancashire.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Tony Bosworth said:
Any move to take decision-making on fracking away from local councils and railroad it through would be another serious attack on democracy, and a sure sign that the Government has lost the argument.
Fracking and National Parks
The letter also explains how the government intends to make sure that the Infrastructure Act regulations - protecting areas such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty from fracking - do not hamper or delay the industry. It states:
Once the regulations are laid, one of our top priorities will be to examine what work is required to ensure that the safeguarding provisions in this Act do not inadvertently create fresh barriers to exploration, and to minimise the delays that the requirements in the Act have introduced, particularly for those first mover operators who could be disproportionately affected
The letter reveals the government’s true colours.
The government claims to be protecting our most beautiful countryside and best wildlife sites.
But the reality is that it‘s only as long as it doesn’t stop fracking companies from doing what they want or slow them down.
And proposals to take decision-making away from local councils show that the government is trying to foist fracking on to communities in England - whatever David Cameron has promised about local democracy and listening to local people.
Fracking bans around the world
Scotland and Wales have moratoriums on fracking, and it is banned in France, Bulgaria and New York state.
Rather than trample on local democracy to push ahead with a risky, unpopular technology, the Prime Minister must stick to his promise to local people, and carry on letting local councils decide what is best for their area.
Photo: Amber Rudd and Greg Clarke by Friends of the Earth. Liz Truss by Gareth Milner/Creative Commons
This story was first published on 31 January 2016