Fracking planning guidance should remain at local level warns Committee

A report from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee warns the Government that decision making on fracking planning guidance should remain on a local level.

The conclusions of the Committee go against government proposals to bring applications under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP), instead recommending that Mineral Planning Authorities are best placed to decide how fracking can take place, given their local area knowledge.

It went on to say that taking the applications to a national level would likely exacerbate current mistrust between the fracking industry and local communities, as well as the principle of localism.

Should the government go ahead with the plans, the Committee’s report suggests that a National Policy Statement should be produced in order for the cumulative effect of applications to be automatically considered. In turn, this will also ensure that each decision is made in line with Local Plans.

A proposal for an ‘online’ ‘one-stop shop’ is also outlined in the document; hosted by a newly created ‘Shale Information and Coordination Service’, this would be for all fracking guidance and policy documentation.

A final key point highlighted by the Committee was the definition of fracking itself, and the plans to implement the definition featured in the Infrastructure Act 2015 into the revised National Planning Practice Guidance. The Committee states that this does not accurately reflect the public understanding of fracking, nor does it communicate the technologies used on the ground.

Instead, the Committee proposes that the definition is extended to make sure it encompasses every development which artificially fractures rock.

Commenting on the potential impact of the Government’s proposed changes was Clive Betts MP. The Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, said:

“Taking decision-making powers away from local planning authorities would be a backward step. It would remove the important link between fracking applications and Local Plans and be hugely harmful to local democracy and the principles and spirit of localism. It is Mineral Planning Authorities that have the knowledge of their areas needed to judge the impacts of fracking, not Ministers sitting in Whitehall.

“Any move to alter this process also seriously risks worsening the often strained relationship between local residents and the fracking industry. The Government has failed to provide any justification as to why fracking is a special case and should be included in the regime in contrast to general mineral applications.”

The full report can be accessed here.

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