Peers and charities fear a change in the law will allow the Government to “fast track” fracking against the will of local communities.
The Growth and Infrastructure Bill, currently going through the House of Lords, could allow exploration for shale gas to be considered as of “national significance”, meaning the Government can override local authorities to grant planning permission.
The National Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, the Town & Country Planning Association, Wildlife Trusts and Greenpeace have joined up to fight the change in the law.
Baroness Young of Old Scone, an independent peer, said a number of members of the House of Lords are also concerned.
She pointed out that the Government would not be changing the law unless they expected a lot of cases to use the new provision to get through controversial projects.
She said the clause will mean communities have far less opportunity to try and stop an unpopular development.
“It drives coach and horses though the local planning system which is pretty rich from the Tories – who claim to champion localism,” she said.
The UK has a huge reserve of shale gas but much of it is below highly populated areas such as the home counties.
Energy companies are currently fighting to get planning permission to start drilling at the most easily accessible wells in Lancashire.
The so-called Clause 24 would bring commercial and business developments, which could potentially include fracking, into the “fast track planning process”.
This would mean that planning applications go straight to the Secretary of State and local communities have less say.
Baroness Hanham, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities, admitted that fracking may be fast tracked – although she insisted that the local community will still be consulted.
“A request would have to be made to the Secretary of State to use the infrastructure regime and he would agree to such a request only where the proposal raised issues of national significance. It may be that national significance and fracking will be one and the same…”
The National Trust said they are “concerned about the centralisation aspects and the potentially significant shift of power away from local authorities”.
Lawrence Carter, Greenpeace climate campaigner, said almost two-thirds of England is “earmarked for possible fracking”.
“A growing number of local communities are already fighting to stop their countryside being fracked, with concerns raised over environmental damage, under-house fracking and the erosion of property prices, but rather than listen to them, the Government is trying to remove their right to have a say,” he said.
“George Osborne needs to stop playing England’s JR Ewing and instead back the shift towards carbon free energy, which will create jobs and be cleaner, safer and cheaper over time.”
Paul Miner, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said the consultation process with the community should be strengthened by changes in the law – not weakened.
“The Government doesn’t appear to have recognised the real need for a proper, transparent process for planning fracking projects. There needs to be a proper public debate about the potential landscape and environmental damage and whether this can be addressed without damaging the countryside.”
The Department for Communities insisted that the types of development allowed under Clause 24 are yet to be decided.
A spokesman pointed out there are no plans to “automatically remove” the rights of local authorities to decide and even if planning permission goes straight to the Secretary of State, local communities will still be consulted.
“The Government has consulted on the types of development that could use the major infrastructure planning regime and is now considering this. There are no proposals to automatically remove applications for shale gas development from local authority determination. Local communities will continue to have their say on whether to accept development of shale gas in their area.”
The link to the story is here – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/9888565/Fears-fracking-could-be-fast-tracked.html