More than 300,000 people have signed a petition opposing the government’s proposal to accelerate new fracking developments.
In May, it emerged that ministers wanted to introduce measures to speed up planning applications for the controversial gas extraction technique and make decisions “faster and fairer”.
This would involve granting planning permissions to fracking companies through a permitted development right, which does not require local authority permission.
Critics of the plan say it will make approving new fracking operations as straightforward as putting up a garden shed, as the rule was originally conceived to help streamline minor changes to homes.
A petition containing hundreds of thousands of signatures has been handed to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on the final day of its consultation into the matter.
“The government claims to champion localism, but its proposals to fast-track fracking fly in the face of this rhetoric,” said Daniel Carey-Dawes, senior infrastructure campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, one of the organisations behind the petition.
“These 300,000 signatures represent a level of opposition that cannot and must not be ignored.
“To overlook this clear lack of public consent and push ahead with these proposals – which would deny the very people who will be directly affected by the risk fracking poses to our countryside and environment, the right to oppose it – would be a complete disregard of their democratic rights.”
Since the consultation opened in July, many have expressed their concerns to local MPs and councillors about the impact fracking will have on England’s countryside.
Critics are concerned about the earth tremors that are often associated with drilling operations, as well as potential water contamination and the long term effects of locking the UK in to a future of fossil fuel extraction as the threat of climate change looms.
“The government’s proposals would allow fracking companies to drill for gas, using rules originally designed to make it easier to put up a garden shed,” said Rose Dickinson, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, another group organising the petition.
“To solve the climate crisis we need to be moving away from fossil fuels, not making it easier for companies to dig up more.”
Sebastian Kelly, a campaigner at 350.org, added: “The government must listen to the growing concerns from climate scientists, communities, councillors and MPs and immediately drop these undemocratic and reckless proposals.”
Conservative MPs and councillors have increasingly voiced fears about their party’s support for fracking, which some fear could cost them votes at future elections. More than 20 Conservatives have threatened to rebel against the government over its proposals.
The extraction technique is not popular among the British public, with just 16 per cent of people supporting it according to government figures.
Fracking has already been suspended in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland due to perceived risks, and saw a temporary ban in England seven years ago after seismic activity near a site in Lancashire.
Amid local protests fracking recently began for the first time in seven years at Preston New Road, Lancashire.
Operations stopped on Tuesday after a series of minor earth tremors, but restarted again the next day. Experts say there is no immediate risk from such small events, but the oil and gas company Cuadrilla said they would proceed with caution.
Responding to the petition, a government spokesperson said: “We are holding early stage consultation on the principle of whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration development should be treated as permitted development, and this consultation closes today.”
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