Leaked letter shows government’s undemocratic approach to fracking

Ministers plan to hand decisions on fracking to central government

 

A letter leaked to Friends of the Earth yesterday reveals that the extent of the government’s fracking plans, and its undemocratic approach to taking decisions which will have such a huge impact on local communities.

The letter, written by energy secretary Amber Rudd, communities secretary Greg Clark and environment secretary Liz Truss to George Osborne last July, sets out proposals for a shale gas strategy.

They include plans to take away local councils’ powers to make decisions about fracking.

The ministers say that they are ‘minded to bring shale within the Nationally Significant Infrastucture Planning (NSIP) regime for commercial scale projects’.

NSIP is a fast-track planning regime, designed for big pieces of kit, with decisions taken eventually by the Secretary of State rather than by local councils.

The ministers also say they want ‘a maturing shale gas production industry’ within 10 years.

The leak comes days before an appeal by shale company Cuadrilla against the refusal of planning permission for 2 shale gas exploration sites in Lancashire. In June, Lancashire councillors voted against the fracking bid, despite huge pressure from both Cuadrilla and Westminster.

In November Greg Clark announced that the new decision on Lancashire would be taken directly by central government.

Environmental campaigners are calling the latest plans revealed by the letter a blow to democracy as well as to sustainability.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of Friends of the Earth, said:

“The government is planning another attack on democracy in relation to fracking. The prime minister has said that communities would have a fair say in whether or not fracking should happen near them, but as this letter makes clear, this isn’t being reflected or honoured in the highest levels of government.”

The letter also sets out government plans to ensure that the Infrastructure Act regulations, which protecting areas such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty from fracking – do not hamper or delay the industry. It says:

“Once the regulations are laid, one of our top priorities will be to examine what work is required to ensure that the safeguarding provisions in this Act do not inadvertently create fresh barriers to exploration, and to minimise the delays that the requirements in the Act have introduced, particularly for those first mover operators who could be disproportionately affected.”

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

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