U-turn will allow fracking in ‘protected areas’, MPs claim

Vote: A fracking rig
Vote: A fracking rig
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A government U-turn on fracking regulations will allow fracking under national parks and other areas previously protected, according to campaigners and MPs.

Labour MPs Cat Smith and Gordon Marsden made their comments after the ‘Delegated Legislation Committee’ voted to make changes to a ban on fracking to allow the practice to take place more than 1,200 metres below sites including national parks, sites of special scientific interest and areas deemed to be vulnerable to ground water pollution.

The committee of 18 MPs voted 10-8 in favour of overturning an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill – passed in January 2015 – which had banned all fracking from such areas.

By approving the amendments, the amendments will now receive only a ‘division’ vote in the House of Commons - where MPs shout “aye” or “no” in response, with no debate.

Fleetwood MP Ms Smith 
attended the meeting with Blackpool South MP Mr Marsden.

Neither of them were eligible to vote, but the duo were each allocated one minute to speak at the session.

Mr Marsden said: “The Government has gone back on promises it made when we asked it to protect these areas.

“They say it is deep down and won’t affect the areas – but when you have to put a load of rigs somewhere like the Forrest of Bowland, it’s not going to be great.

“And if you are doing things underground, you are inevitably going to affect the surface.

“This is an abuse of process and of our trust.

“This matter is not over and we’ll be pressing for a vote in the House of Commons next week.

“Something as important as this should not tucked away in a corridor in Parliament with 20-odd MPs making decisions.”

Ms Smith told the committee any changes which weakened the ban would mean less protection for areas that particularly needed safeguarding.

She said: “The Government has clearly made a U-turn and potentially put these areas in more danger of fracking when the original amendment sought to protect them.

“By voting this through, this issue will not now get the full Commons debate it needed.

“The committee should only act on issues which are not controversial but this issue does not come into that category.

“We should have had all 650 MPs discussing it and voting for it in the Commons, but instead it has been sneaked through.”

Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Energy minister Amber Rudd, voted for the changes.

He said: “This particular statutory instrument was designed to protect national parks from hydraulic fracturing above 1,200m and it remains the plan to prevent any drilling within national parks .

“We are looking in detail at how to achieve that.”

Daisy Sands from Greenpeace said: “It is deeply disturbing that the Government appears to be playing fast and loose with democracy. Not only are they breaking their promise that national parks would not be scarred by fracking, but they are trying to sneak these regulations through the back door of Parliament without any consent from the public and without any proper scrutiny from MPs.

“Flares, drilling rigs, and heavy lorries could pollute the air and the landscape near World Heritage Sites, National Parks as well as threaten groundwater.

“Fracking won’t cut bills for people. It’s unlikely to bring new jobs for local residents. It will knock down the value of families’ homes and could damage tourism. People who love and live in the countryside and who care about climate change will not stand for a government which is riding roughshod over democracy.”

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “The UK has one of the best track records in the world for protecting our environment while developing our industries - these regulations will get this vital industry moving while protecting our environment and people.”

What do you think about plans to allow fracking under national parks like the Lake District and protected areas like the Forest of Bowland? Contact us at the addresses on p18 or on facebook.