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Proposed changes to fracking applications will 'bypass local democracy'

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The government must not circumvent local planning departments under proposals to change planning law for shale gas developments, the Local Government Association has urged.

A joint ministerial statement from business secretary Greg Clark and housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire, published yesterday, called for new tools to speed up permission for fracking sites, which environmental activists have said will “pervert” the planning process. The LGA also emphasised the need to keep local communities involved in all fracking development plans.

Judith Blake (Lab), environment spokeswoman for the LGA, said: “We oppose any proposal for shale exploration to be allowed to bypass the locally democratic planning system through permitted development or national planning inspectors.

“We are clear that it should be up to local communities to decide whether or not to host fracking operations in their areas.”

The ministerial statement called for an update to existing UK regulation to help “ensure that shale exploration can happen safely, respecting local communities and safeguarding the environment”. 

Ministers have proposed a number of changes to planning law, including a means of expediting decisions on planning applications for fracking sites where an environmental impact assessment is required. Large numbers of fracking sites are currently located in conservation areas where permitted development rights have historically been harder to come by.

The ministerial statement announces two consultations, both of which are due to begin this summer. The first consultation centres on “the principle of whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration development should be treated as permitted development”. The second consultation will look at “the criteria required to trigger the inclusion of shale production projects into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime”.

Friends of the Earth spokeswoman Rose Dickinson said: “The government’s plans pervert the planning process and could make England’s landscape a Wild West for whatever cowboy wants to start drilling and digging up our countryside. Permitted development was meant to help people build a fence or a conservatory, not drill for gas.”

Mark Ellis-Jones, programme executive at the Environment Agency, told the Commons housing, communities and local government committee on Monday: “The Environment Agency’s strong view is that we have the right regulatory controls in place for this sector.”

The HCLG committee, which will soon complete its inquiry into planning guidance on fracking, will question housing minister Dominic Raab and energy minister Claire Perry on the proposed changes at 4pm on 21 May.

Fracking, the procedure of injecting liquid at high pressure into the ground to free up gas supplies, has been highly criticised by environmental groups for its adverse effects on local environments. Fracking sites have historically inspired large protests over its adverse impact the local environment, particularly over air and water pollution.

The Conservative party’s 2017 manifesto highlighted party’s wish to develop the shale gas drilling agenda in this country, arguing that it had helped other countries decrease their reliance on gas imports.

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