Minister: fracking decisions to stay with councils

Communities minister Baroness Hanham has indicated that decisions over applications to frack for shale gas will not be added to the fast-track regime for major infrastructure.

Parliament: Lords considering Growth & Infrastructure Bill
Parliament: Lords considering Growth & Infrastructure Bill

Speaking yesterday in the Lords during the Growth and Infrastructure Bill’s committee stage, Hanham said: "At present, fracking decisions will not be taken out of the hands of local authorities."

Hanham was responding to comments from Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Parminter, who had queried whether the government’s estimate that only ten to 20 major business or commercial projects will be added to the fast-track regime for major infrastructure under proposals in the bill was robust, "if fracking is brought forward".
The controversial practice involves blasting sand, water and chemicals at high pressure into rock to release gas.

Under proposals in the bill, developers planning major business and commercial developments would be able to choose the fast-track route by submitting applications directly to the Planning Inspectorate rather than to councils.

Parminter cited evidence given last month to the House of Lords inquiry into EU energy policy by professor Jonathan Stern of the Oxford Institute, whom she said had stated: "If you are going to produce shale gas on any scale, you probably need to be drilling somewhere between 300 and 500 wells a year, every year."

Parminter said: "If the Government are going to proceed with fracking, and take it forward as part of the energy mix in the short to medium term, then not only is there a case for a national policy statement, but there needs to be far greater clarity about the implications-particularly the resource implications-that would accrue for the Planning Inspectorate."

But Hanham responded: "At present, fracking applications will not be taken out of the hands of local authorities. Any developer will have to consult the local community and local people and the local authority will have the right of determination.

"A request would have to be made to the secretary of state to use the infrastructure regime and he would agree to such a request only where the proposal raised issues of national significance.

"It may be that national significance and fracking will be one and the same but that gives an indication that at present we would expect this to be dealt with locally and local people would have a big say in what was to happen."

Energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey announced before Christmas that exploratory fracking for shale gas can resume in the UK.

The practice was suspended in May 2011 after two small seismic tremors were detected near the country’s only fracking operations in Lancashire.

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