The government’s proposed changes to planning law for fracking sites would be “hugely harmful to local democracy”, the chair of the Commons housing, communities and local government committee has warned.
Clive Betts (Lab) said that plans to bring fracking projects under the government’s Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime would run counter to the spirit of localism, as it would allow industry to bypass planning departments.
Mr Betts 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.”
Projects on the NSIP regime are granted development consent orders, which effectively removes the need for full planning permission on developments.
Housing minister Dominic Raab told the CLG committee in May however that only planning applications for the production stage of development would be included into the NSIP regime.
Mr Betts said that this would essentially allow for exploratory drills to be set up across the countryside without permission, showing “disregard” for local democracy.
A spokesperson for the Campaign to Protect Rural England welcomed the CLG report on Thursday, describing it as a “major blow” for the government’s plans to “fast track” fracking projects.
Daniel Carey-Dawes of the CPRE said: “The report correctly highlights that local authorities are best placed to understand their local area and that the proposals would result in a significant loss of local decision making and exacerbate existing mistrust between communities and the fracking industry.
“The government must now heed these warnings and abandon plans to fast track fracking. Failure to do so risks leading to the industrialisation of our countryside, all for the benefit of an industry that has no environmental, economic or social licence.”
The committee also published a list of recommendations in its report, including the need for the following:
An online “one-stop shop” for all fracking guidance and policy documents, to increase transparency and better help explain the roles of each regulatory body.
To remove the definition of fracking in the planning context as “liquid or volume based”
To better resource the Shale Support Fund for mineral planning authorities.