Controversial plans to strip local people of power to block fracking applications in trouble after Tory revolt

Fast-track proposal could mean test drilling 'at the end of your garden without you being able to have a say', ministers told

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 19 September 2018 16:53
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How Fracking works

Controversial plans to strip local people of the power to block fracking applications are in trouble after a Tory backbench revolt.

Up to 20 Conservative MPs are ready to rebel over the proposal, more than enough to wipe out Theresa May’s fragile Commons majority – even with the Democratic Unionist Party – of just 13.

The proposal – to fast-track applications, by removing the need to obtain planning permission – have already triggered a grassroots revolt by Conservative councillors.

Now Tory MPs have spoken out, saying around 20 “feel enraged to fight these proposals”, which are currently out to consultation.

Ben Bradley, a former Tory vice-chairman, told the Financial Times: “Allowing it as permitted development potentially could mean they could install that infrastructure at the end of your garden without you being able to have a say. I think it's wrong.”

And Lee Rowley, another Conservative MP, said: “I know how divisive they are and how important the involvement of local residents is. It would be a thoroughly retrograde step for the government to pursue this.”

Under the consultation, planning permission would still be required for the actual fracking, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to open cracks in the rock to extract oil or natural gas.

However, earlier exploratory work, including test drilling, would proceed under “permitted development” – a form of approval normally used only for minor home improvements.

The green group Friends of the Earth has condemned the “underhand move”, saying: “Local people and councils have rejected the overtures of the industry wherever it's tried to drill.

“But under these changes, fracking companies could start puncturing the land without local support. Should communities be sidelined on decisions that affect their local environment?”

The row has blown up as Cuadrilla Resources, a leading fracking company, is set to begin efforts to exploit Britain's shale resources, in Lancashire.

It will be the first fracking in the UK since the gas explorer caused a minor earthquake when using the process to extract gas in the county in 2011.

The Tory party's manifesto at last year’s general election committed to support shale exploration and ministers have claimed it has the potential to create jobs, as well as help lower bills.

The government is ploughing ahead in England, despite bans in Scotland and Wales and abroad and the growing opposition of Conservative councillors.

Critics of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – have questioned the need for it, as energy from renewable sources booms, and protested about both air pollution, when excess gas is burned off, and from lorries.

The government’s own climate change adviser warned last year fracking on a large scale would bust Britain’s legally-binding targets for carbon emissions.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We are committed to planning reforms to help ensure quicker decision-making on shale applications.”

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