The Queen’s Speech: your home is no longer your castle

The government has brought forward legislation that could lead to people being stripped of their right to object to fracking underneath their homes.

The government has brought forward legislation that could lead to people being stripped of their right to object to fracking underneath their homes

This morning we transformed David Cameron’s idyllic Cotswold home into a fracking site in anticipation of getting the green light to drill under his home following the Queen’s speech.

In the end the police turned up and asked us to leave, which we did.

After all they had a point – if you want to frack under someone’s garden you should have the decency to ask for their permission first.

But this is clearly not a view shared by the Prime minister, who today brought forward legislation that could lead to people being stripped of their right to object to fracking underneath their homes.

The access right issue stems from the fact that shale gas exploration involves not just drilling down vertically but also out horizontally, often for more than a mile.

Under current law, companies need permission from all the landowners beneath whose land they plan to drill. Case law shows they would otherwise be committing trespass. If a landowner refuses permission, the company has to take them to court, which then decides whether to award drilling rights.

Staggeringly, David Cameron and Nick Clegg introduced the Queen’s speech by describing how, “we have protected and extended freedoms by shifting powers back to people in their communities”.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to cast yourself as a champion of local communities, while at the same time removing people’s right to decide whether they want inexperienced fracking companies conducting fracking experiments under their home.

Over 46,000 people have signed up to Greenpeace’s legal blockade to protect their homes and communities from fracking, opening the prospect of a patchwork of no-go areas for fracking being established across the country.

This is a nightmarish scenario for the shale gas lobby who dreads their dash for shale gas getting bogged down in a legal quagmire. This is why they put huge pressure on the government to change the law, and ministers have obliged.

This is a toxic policy that will come with a hefty political price tag. A recent YouGov survey found that 74 per cent of people oppose the proposed changes to trespass laws. This includes 73 per cent of Tory voters and 70 per cent of Lib Dems.

But it is potential Labour voters who are most opposed to removing the right of homeowners to refuse drilling companies permission, with 80 per cent disagreeing with the proposed change.

This has prompted Labour MP and chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Joan Walley, to  argue today that stripping “homeowners and tenants of their right to stand up to fracking companies is a step too far”.

She added that “a year away from the election it’s time to demonstrate that we’re listening carefully to what our supporters want and that we’re actively developing a clean and secure energy policy”.

Fracking is a long way from being clean and secure. It will involve the industrialisation of tracts of the British countryside and presents a serious threat to our climate.

While fracking proponents have attempted to paint it green, the chief scientist at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, Prof. David MacKay, has said that “in the absence of global climate policies, we believe it is credible that shale-gas use would increase both short-term and long-term emissions rates”.

The International Energy Agency has said that we need to leave two-thirds of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we’re to have any chance of limiting climate change to two degrees. In this context we shouldn’t even be having a debate about whether or not to frack, let alone bringing forward legislation to undermine long-standing rights. Leaving it in the ground is a no brainer.

As an indicator of just out of hand the government’s attempts to railroad fracking through have become, you need look no further than the village of Fernhurst in South Downs National Park.

Earlier this year, local people got together and decided that they didn’t want energy company Celitique Energie to frack in (or under) their village. And, in a move that David Cameron would presumably have approved of in his Big Society days, they sent a legal letter to the company formally refusing them permission to drill under their property.

This proved extremely effective, with the company withdrawing its application to drill horizontally, thus severely hampering its operations. But rather than respect their wishes, the government has given way to industry pressure and decided to remove their legal right to object instead.

Next month, David Cameron will auction off over half of the UK to fracking companies. Having failed to convince people that fracking is safe or indeed desirable, he is trying to make sure there’s nothing they can do to stop him.

Lawrence Carter is an energy campaigner for Greenpeace

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