Controversial plans to extract shale gas were accelerated yesterday when the Government announced proposals to allow fracking companies to drill under homes without the owner’s permission.
Reform of the trespass laws will be included in an Infrastructure Bill outlined in the Coalition’s final Queen’s Speech before the general election.
Although ministers claimed a final decision would depend on the outcome of a recently-launched public consultation, they signalled their firm intention to press ahead to prevent objections delaying their plans to exploit Britain’s shale gas reserves.
Michael Fallon, the Energy Minister, said: “At the moment, a developer can apply to the courts for permission to drill a horizontal pipe a mile down underneath your house and needs to go to the Secretary of State to get that permission. We've got a solution that we think simplifies that and we're consulting on it now.”
Denying that it was a “Big Brother” move, Mr Fallon said fracking firms would still need planning permission from the local authority. “We do want to make sure that they're not unnecessarily held up and don't have to spend two years going through the courts,” he said.
Ken Cronin, chief executive of the UK Onshore Operators Group, welcomed the proposal, saying: “It serves no one if an anomaly in the legal system allows the few to block access to much needed natural resources.”
But John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said announcing the measure in the Speech only days after launching the consultation made “a mockery of public participation”. He said: “Ministers are losing the argument on fracking and are now steamrolling over people's rights in order to sacrifice our countryside and climate.”
Yesterday Greenpeace activists turned up on the doorstep of Mr Cameron’s Oxfordshire home and erected a sign saying: “We apologise for any inconvenience we may cause while we frack under your home.”
The Infrastructure Bill will also speed up the planning process for “nationally significant projects”.