Nottinghamshire councillors hit out at bid to change planning laws as ‘blank cheque for frackers’

Plans to frack for shale gas have proved controversial in communities around the UK.
Plans to frack for shale gas have proved controversial in communities around the UK.

A bid to ease planning conditions for fracking companies is set to be criticised by Nottinghamshire County Council.

The Government hopes to make it easier for fracking companies to operate, by removing the need to gain planning permission for test sites.

It would make shale gas exploration a ‘permitted development’, similar to building an extension for a house or making minor alterations to a building.

Supporters say it could reduce energy costs and help lessen the reliance on gas from overseas.

But critics say the procedure is dangerous, and can pollute the environment. Some also say there is no need for additional fossil fuels to be taken out of the ground.

There are currently two exploratory test sites in Nottinghamshire – one at Misson Springs and another at Barnby Moor.

Fracking, or ‘hydraulic fracturing’ involves drilling small but deep holes in the ground, and then setting off explosions underground.

Shale gas which is trapped in the ground then escapes, and can be captured.

Currently, fracking companies have to gain planning permission from the local authority before they can test drill to see if there is any gas there.

They then need further permission to extract the gas.

But the Conservative Government hopes to remove the need for initial planning permission for testing, or exploratory work.

Where gas is found, the Government also hopes to make decisions on whether to frack nationally, rather than at a council level.

It has launched two consultations – one on making exploration a ‘permitted development’ and another on making fracking decisions nationally.

Now, the Conservative-controlled Nottinghamshire County Council has released its draft responses to the consultations.

It says that the effect of the proposed plans would “remove removing the local level of decision making and local accountability that communities expect”.

Jim Creamer is the vice chairman of the planning committee at the council, which approved the draft consultation today.

He represents the Carlton West ward for Labour, and said the plans represented a “blank cheque for frackers”.

He said: “Here in Nottinghamshire, we have many former coal mining areas which may be vulnerable to further drilling.

“This is about retaining local specialism and knowledge, which are vital in planning decisions as big as these.  

“Removing the decision making process for shale gas applications from local planning officers also takes away local democracy, as people living around the proposed sites will not have the opportunity to voice their concerns in the same way that they do now”.

“We would like Nottinghamshire County Council to stand firm on this issue, because we should be allowed to get on with determining shale gas applications within our own county boundaries”.

A spokesman for the Government’s Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government, which is running one of the consultations, said: “No one benefits from delays in planning decisions.  That’s why we are committed to planning reforms to help ensure quicker decision making on shale applications.

“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 is currently in process. ”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is running the other consultation, and a spokesman there said: “Shale gas has the potential to help lower bills, create high quality jobs and increase the security of the UK’s energy supply as part of our diverse energy mix.

“Making major shale gas production a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project will help maintain the strongest environmental safeguards whilst involving local people in the process. This will deliver greater certainty and clarity to local communities and developers in a timely manner.”

Frack-free Notts, a group which opposes fracking, called the Government plan an “attack on democracy”.

A spokeswoman said: “This is a serious assault on our democracy, as local communities and county councils would not be able to control fracking or oppose plans as people have done in huge numbers across the country.

“This would result in thousands of fracking wells industrialising the beautiful British countryside.”

Kit Sandeman , Local Democracy Reporting Service