At the moment, for any shale gas development to take place, energy companies must receive consent from a number of bodies, including the Environment Agency and the Health & Safety Executive.
They must also get planning permission from the local minerals planning authority for all stages of shale gas development.
The planning process allows for professional and specialist input and scrutiny of the proposals from planning officers, councillors and local people.
However, under the changes currently out for consultation, the exploratory stages of shale gas development would be reclassified as ‘permitted development’, meaning that it could proceed with limited input from the minerals planning authority and there would be no public scrutiny or debate of the proposals.
The second major change being considered would mean that applications to carry out fracking would be considered under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project regime, meaning the application would be considered at a national, rather than local level.
It is the council’s view that the changes currently under consideration put that local democratic process at risk and it is formulating a response, which makes its opposition clear.
The concerns it is raising in our response include, the removal of the local level of decision-making and local accountability that communities have come to expect, potential complications and lack of clarity around General Permitted Development Order legislation which could result in multiple, complex planning issues, the likelihood that trying to speed up exploration applications could limit proper consideration of potential impacts and mitigation measures, and the practicalities of enforcing limitations on permitted developments, for instance how many breaches would need to occur, or how serious would they need to be, for a council to deem it expedient to take enforcement action.
I was delighted that a motion which sets out the council’s position received unanimous support at the latest full council meeting.
The response to these proposals is not indicative of the council’s position on any particular shale gas or fracking application.
This is about ensuring the right locally accountable process for determining such applications.
It is about standing up for local democracy, and recognising the vital input and knowledge that only local people, councillors and officers can provide in these very important decisions.