Fracking allowed in Lancashire in landmark Government ruling

'At a time when the rest of the world is moving towards low carbon, this Conservative Government is taking us in completely the wrong direction'

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The Independent Online

The Government has overturned a decision to refuse planning permission for fracking of shale gas in Lancashire.

Ahead of the announcement by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Friends of the Earth released documents showing one of two proposed sites had been given planning permission, despite local opposition.

The decision is the first indication that Theresa May will continue David Cameron's ambitions to go "all out" for fracking, despite concerns that opening up a new supply of fossil fuels is a retrograde step given the need to reduce carbon emissions.

It came on the same day Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, the leading economist, warned that attempts to deliver economic growth with a high-carbon strategy would "self-destruct".

Some have argued that gas from fracking will help cut greenhouse gases relative to coal, which produces more emissions. But others say rapid developments in renewable energy, batteries and other electricity storage methods have demonstrated there is no need to frack for gas.

Fracking has also been linked to pollution of groundwater and the air, with complaints of health problems by some local people in places like Pennsylvania in the US where it has become common.

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities, said: “The decisions follow extensive consideration of all the evidence, including an independent planning inspector’s report and evidence submitted during a two-week public inquiry.

“Shale gas has the potential to power economic growth, support 64,000 jobs, and provide a new domestic energy source, making us less reliant on imports.

“When it comes to the financial benefits of shale, our plans mean local communities benefit first. We will take the big decisions that matter to the future of our country as we build an economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.”

Friends of the Earth north-west campaigner, Helen Rimmer, said: “This is bad news for Lancashire – the community have been fighting fracking for more than five years. This fight continues until this unproven and unpopular industry disappears for good.

“Instead of shoving us down a dangerous path that inevitably leads to climate change, the Government should invest in renewables and energy efficiency, an emerging industry that could create 24,000 jobs in the north west alone.”

Lancashire County Council voted against allowing drilling for gas using the controversial technique at the two sides in June last year, following more than 18,000 objections.

But the company behind the project, Cuadrilla, then appealed to the Government.

Mr Javid decided to allow fracking at one site, called Preston New Road in the parish of Westby-with-Plumptons, but deferred a decision on the other application, to frack at Roseacre Wood.

The Government planning inspector had recommended allowing the Preston New Road application, but refusing the Roseacre Wood one.

The planning decision document said Mr Javid was "minded" to grant permission for Roseacre Wood if traffic problems identified by the inspector could be resolved.

"He [Mr Javid] has decided to give the appellant [Cuadrilla] and other parties the opportunity to provide any further evidence on highway safety and allow parties to make any representations on that before reaching a final decision on this appeal," the document says.

"Subject to being satisfied that the highway safety issues identified by the inspector can be satisfactorily addressed, the Secretary of State is minded to allow Appeal C [Roseacre Wood] and grant planning permission, subject to conditions."

Cuadrilla welcomed the decisions and said it "looks forward to demonstrating that it will meet these requirements" to enable fracking at Roseacre Wood. 

Francis Egan, the company's chief executive, said: “We are very pleased that we can now move ahead with our shale gas exploration plans which will start to create new economic growth opportunities and jobs for people in Lancashire and the UK.

"As a Lancashire business we are proud that the county will play such a vital role in securing vitally needed, home-sourced energy.

"We are confident that our operations will be safe and responsible and the comprehensive site monitoring programme planned by regulators and independent academics will in due course conclusively demonstrate this.

"We hope this will reassure the minority of people whom remain sceptical about shale gas exploration.”

However Liberal Democrat Climate and Energy Spokesperson Lynne Featherstone said the decision "sets a very dangerous precedent".

“Fracking poses a huge risk to our countryside, environment and efforts to tackle climate change, we must continue to fight it at every turn," she said.

“At a time when the rest of the world is moving towards low carbon, this Conservative government is taking us in completely the wrong direction.”

And Greenpeace campaigner Hannah Martin said the decision raised questions about the UK Government's commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

“This fudged decision shows the Government is struggling to force fracking on a reluctant nation," she said.

"Fracking will put our countryside and air quality at risk. Digging up more fossil fuels that we can’t burn if we are to honour the international agreement we signed in Paris and is coming into force next month makes little economic or environmental sense.

“Theresa May cannot build a 21st-century industrial strategy on a polluting and inexperienced fracking sector that won’t deliver for years, if ever.

"If the Prime Minister wants to promote an affordable and fair energy system whilst bolstering business growth and job creation, renewable and smart energy technologies are the way to go.”

Local campaign groups also expressed their dismay.

Pat Davies, who chairs the Preston New Road Action Group, said it was "a sad day as it is clear to all that this Government neither listens nor can it be trusted to do the right thing for local communities.

“It is deplorable that an industry that has been rejected on every level has inflicted itself on Preston New Road. Westby Parish Council, Fylde Borough Council and Lancashire County Council planning committee all said no to this application. These reasons were based on facts and knowledge, they rejected the site as unsuitable. Profit clearly comes before people.

"This travesty of justice will not be accepted. This is not the end. We will challenge this.”

And Barbara Richardson, of Roseacre Awareness Group, said: “While we are happy that there will be no fracking in Roseacre, our joy is obviously tempered by the decision to allow fracking to go ahead elsewhere in Lancashire. We will do what we can to support our friends at Preston New Road in their continuing fight.

“After researching this industry for over two and a half years we are of the firm opinion that fracking has no place anywhere in the UK. The risks to our health and wellbeing, environment and climate change are far too high and the benefits seriously over-hyped. There is still a significant threat from this industry especially in the North of England. 

“Fracking is not the solution. It is a backward step in energy policy. Ours is a small and densely populated country, unlike the wide open spaces of the US, which cannot support such an industry without devastating results. Be assured this is about money not people.”

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